Four years ago, the United States team at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics was young and inexperienced at the highest international level. The team named Wednesday by USA Hockey for the 2014 Sochi Olympics will not carry the same pre-tournament stigma.
Thirteen members of the silver-medal winning squad from Vancouver were named to the 25-man roster, which was announced on NBC immediately after the Bridgestone 2014 NHL Winter Classic.
Among the returnees are all of the players named as part of the "leadership group" by USA Hockey at the summer orientation camp: forwards David Backes, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan and Zach Parise, as well as defenseman Ryan Suter. Also back is 2010 tournament MVP, goaltender Ryan Miller.
The strength up front for the American team appears to be on the wings. Parise, Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel are three of the top wings in the NHL, while Brown, Callahan, James van Riemsdyk, Max Pacioretty and Blake Wheeler offer a lot of skill, size and speed, and T.J. Oshie is one of the best playmakers at the position.
Backes leads a group of five centers. Where they fit on the depth chart will be interesting to monitor. Paul Stastny, Ryan Kesler and Joe Pavelski were all in Vancouver. Derek Stepan is the lone newcomer of the bunch.
Suter will be the No. 1 defenseman for the Americans, and is a strong candidate to be among the tournament leaders in time on ice. The defense corps is the biggest area of turnover on the club. Only Suter and Brooks Orpik are returning.
Orpik and Paul Martin have been defense partners both at even strength and on the penalty kill for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Dan Bylsma, the Penguins coach, has coached the Penguins for multiple seasons. Martin is currently injured, but any player can be replaced on the roster if he is unable to play before the start of the tournament.
The rest of the defense corps is a collection of some of the best young talents in the League at the position. All five, John Carlson, Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk, are 24 years old or younger.
Though the men's team won silver at the 2010 Games, the U-20 squad won gold at the IIHF 2010 World Junior Championship in Saskatchewan. Carlson scored the golden goal in overtime against the host Canadians, and Stepan was the leading scorer in that tournament with 14 points. Fowler was also on that team.
Miller and 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick have long been considered favorites for places on this team in net, and Jimmy Howard was named to the team just minutes after backstopping his Detroit Red Wings in the NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.
The top players among the names not on the 25-man roster up are forwards Bobby Ryan, Brandon Dubinsky, Kyle Okposo and Jason Pominville. Ryan and Pominville are third and fourth in goals among American players this season with 18 and 17, while Okposo is second in points with 40. Dubinsky and Nick Bonino are the top centers who did not make it. Dustin Byfuglien and Keith Yandle, first and third among American-born defensemen, are not on the 25-man roster. Erik Johnson and Jack Johnson were both on the 2010 team, but are not returning.
Miller and Quick, despite his injury, were near-consensus picks in goal, but there were a lot of candidates for the final spot. Cory Schneider and Ben Bishop have better statistics than Howard this season, but Howard's play during Detroit's surprising run to within one win of the conference finals in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs likely helped his case.
The evaluation team, which is led by general manager David Poile and his assistants Stan Bowman, Ray Shero, Dean Lombardi, Brian Burke and Dale Tallon, made it clear early in the process that a player's previous track record and where he would fit on the roster would have a large impact on the decisions.
Ryan, Okposo and Pominville are not considered to have elite skating ability, which clearly looks like a component the management team valued when picking the wings and could be a factor on the larger international ice surface. Those three are also do not kill penalties for their NHL clubs.
The Americans will take five left-handed shots and three righties among the defensemen, and Poile had previously suggested there might not be as much emphasis on left-right balance as some pundits suggested.
The United States will be in Group A with Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia in the preliminary round. The first game for the Americans is Feb. 13 against Slovakia.
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