I love the Olympics as much as anyone. And up until I started following swimming in earnest as a high schooler, the Winter Games were always my favorite competition thanks to sports like curling and luge, which I could otherwise only watch in a frozen alley in Calgary or in the Swiss Alps.
This year’s most mouth-watering competition has to be the men’s ice hockey competition for a number of reasons. The talent level is as high as it has ever been, and the new post-lockout openness of play that has had four more years to manifest itself since the last Games will be on display again on the wider international rinks.
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One of the usual sources of enjoyment in this tournament is gone, however. Team USA’s scintillating run to the Gold Medal game in 2002 added excitement to only the second Olympiad featuring NHL players. This year’s team, at least on paper, simply doesn’t have the talent to match that feat. Russia and Canada are far and away the favorites, while 2006 gold medalist Sweden has an experienced, albeit banged up and aging, squad.
Just to get an idea of Team USA’s place compared to its northern rivals, as also posited by Eric Duhatschek of The Globe and Mail, here are both countries rosters (lines approximated based on position):
Goalies: Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Marc-Andre Fleury
Defensemen: Chris Pronger-Dan Boyle; Scott Niedermayer-Brent Seabrook; Duncan Keith-Drew Doughty; Shea Weber
Forwards: Dany Heatley-Sidney Crosby-Corey Perry; Rich Nash-Joe Thornton-Jarome Iginla; Eric Staal-Mike Richards-Patrick Marleau; Brendan Morrow-Jonathan Toews-Patrice Bergeron; Ryan Getzlaf
Goalies: Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas, Jonathan Quick
Defensemen: Brooks Orpik-Mike Komisarek; Paul Martin-Brian Rafalski; Jack Johnson-Ryan Suter; Erik Johnson
Forwards: Zach Parise-Chris Drury-Phil Kessel; Patrick Kane-Paul Stastny-Jamie Langenbrunner; Ryan Malone-Joe Pavelski-Dustin Brown; Bobby Ryan-Ryan Kesler-Ryan Callahan; David Backes
As if that’s not bad enough, now look at Canada’s “B” Team assembled from the best of the rest:
Goalies: Cam Ward, Steve Mason, Marty Turco
Defensemen: Jay Boumweester-Mike Green; Dion Phaneuf-Kris Letang; Robyn Reaghr-Francois Beauchemin; Dan Hamhuis
Forwards: Dustin Penner-Vincent Lecavalier-Martin St. Louis; Ryan Smyth-Jordan Staal-Jeff Carter; Steven Stamkos-Brad Richards-Shane Doan; Scott Hartnell-Derek Roy-John Tavares; Mike Fisher
And the “C” team starts with Carey Price, Marc Savard, Mike Cammalleri, Milan Lucic, Patrick Sharp, Stephane Robidas, Brian Campbell, Dan Cleary, Nathan Horton, Jason Spezza, Stephen Weiss, and Andy McDonald.
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The level of talent in the American side heading to Vancouver just isn’t on par with that of the other traditional powers; you could argue it’s not even up to the level that Canada’s second squad brings to the table. It’s a young squad that likely will only have a chance at a medal if Miller or Thomas plays absolutely out of his mind (ala Martin Gerber against Canada in ’06). The only positive six weeks out is that at least USA Hockey elected to err on the side of youth and allow young players to gain experience in international competition, rather than running out aging veterans well past their prime like Keith Tkachuk and Bill Guerin.
There’s a lot of uncertainty coming into these Olympics thanks to the NHL’s repeated insistence not to commit to shutting down for the tournament past this season. I like the red, white and blue jersey sitting in my closet as much as the next guy, but these games, which have the potential to be very special for the sport of hockey, are equally likely to be quite short for the Americans.
-Matthew De George ’10