NHL Players Hope For Another Shot At Gold
|Zach Parise #9 celebrates after scoring a goal to tie the scores
2-2 late in the third during the ice hockey men's gold medal
game between USA and Canada at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic
Winter Games at Canada Hockey Place on Feb. 28, 2010.
The 2010 U.S. Olympic hockey team was a changing of the guard of sorts. Gone were the stalwarts who led Team USA in the 1990s. In their place was a group made up mostly of younger players whose best days still appeared to be in front of them.
And that younger squad went out and won a silver medal.
True to form, many of those players have continued developing into bona fide NHL standouts. And should the NHL agree to send its athletes to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games — negotiations are ongoing — those players like their chances of winning Team USA’s first gold medal in men’s hockey since the “Miracle on Ice” team did so in 1980.
“You’ll probably see that a lot of guys that were on that team will be some of the same players that are coming back because they’ve matured and gotten even better as players,” Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane told USAHockey.com recently. “I feel U.S. hockey is growing. You can see that from the players that are in the league now and how well we did at the last Olympics. I’m looking forward to it. It would be a great honor to do it again.”
Kane, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., likely would be at the forefront of the U.S. squad. The former first overall draft pick led his Western Conference-leading Blackhawks to the best start in NHL history this season — a run of 24 games without a loss in regulation — and ranks among the league’s top five with 18 goals and 42 points through 34 games as of March 31.
Kane, who scored three goals and five points in six games in Vancouver, acknowledged that he occasionally reflects on 2010’s gold-medal game. He assisted on Zach Parise’s game-tying goal with 25 seconds remaining in the third period to send the game to overtime, but Canada’s Sidney Crosby beat U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller at 7:40 of OT for the winner.
“You think back on it,” admitted Kane, who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime of Game 6 for the Blackhawks just months after taking home silver in Vancouver. “But for us, yeah, you want to win the gold, but the way it turned out, with us winning the silver medal and how good it was for hockey and how great that game was and how people who watched that game said it was one of the best games they’ve ever seen — things like that, the comeback, the way Canada won in Canada.
“It was tough to lose at the time, but to look back, we really made some great strides for USA Hockey.”
Among American defensemen, few have had the impact this season that Madison, Wis., native Ryan Suter has had for the Minnesota Wild. After seven years in Nashville, Suter signed with the Wild as a free agent and has thrived, contributing three goals and 28 points through 34 games, ranking first in assists and points among all NHL blue liners. No player in the NHL has averaged more than Suter’s 27:18 minutes per game.
Suter, whose father, Bob, played for the legendary 1980 U.S. Olympic gold medal squad that won in Lake Placid, N.Y., also believes Team USA will contend for a medal again in 2014.
“USA Hockey is definitely doing a good job developing players, and I think that every tournament that USA Hockey has participated in, the chances of winning are good,” said Suter, who earned four assists in six games in Vancouver. “I expect no differently there.”
A big part of that development has certainly been the U.S. National Team Development Program, which is based in Ann Arbor, Mich. Founded in 1996, the program takes in top U.S. high school athletes to play in the United States Hockey League, college competition and international tournaments. Among the 60 NTDP players who suited up for NHL teams in 2011-12 were Kane, Suter, Erik Johnson, Phil Kessel, Ryan Kesler, James van Riemsdyk and Blake Geoffrion.
All of those players are expected to be contenders for the 2014 U.S. Olympic team.
So is Suter’s Minnesota teammate, Parise, a forward who has compiled 15 goals and 30 points through 34 games. The Minneapolis native, who tied for third among all scorers in the 2010 tournament with four goals and eight points in six games, pointed out how much parity there is at the highest levels of international competition.
“Of course, you want to be optimistic about it and no one really gave us much of a chance last time, but it’s so hard in those tournaments with the one-and-done tournament,” said Parise, who helped lead New Jersey to the Stanley Cup Final last season before signing with the Wild last summer. “You run into a hot goalie, you have a bad game, or you have a hot goalie like we did, he can take you all the way to the finals.”
Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny, another veteran of the 2010 team who figures to be a contender for the 2014 squad, agrees that the Olympic tournament will be very hard to predict.
“It’s a crap shoot, there are so many good teams out there,” said Stastny, who was born in Quebec when his father Peter played there but grew up primarily in the St. Louis area.
“Whoever has the good goaltending or who’s hot at the right time, because I think the toughest match is always the quarterfinal. You win that and you’re playing for a medal either way. But the thing is, you have those top eight countries, and maybe if you’re the one-seed, you might have a little easier matchup, but other than that, they’re all going to be tough games.”
The United States boasts its share of hot goalies and will have a number of excellent options for 2014, including Miller, who won the 2010 tournament’s Most Valuable Player award. While he and the Sabres have endured a somewhat disappointing season, the fact that he sparked Team USA to the silver in 2010 cannot be dismissed.
There’s also Los Angeles Kings netminder Jonathan Quick, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs MVP while leading the Kings to the 2012 title. After a slow start to the season, Quick appears to have regained his top form.
And leading the NHL in goals-against average (1.49) and save percentage (.952) by wide margins has been Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators, who has missed the past 16 games with an ankle injury but should return in the next couple of weeks.
Should the NHL send its players to Sochi, these players will be ready.
“It’s quite an honor to put that sweater on; it’s really a great feeling,” Kane said. “To be honest, I wouldn’t want to be from anywhere else or play for anyone else. It’s awesome being on that team.”
Where Are They Now?
Here's a look at how members of the 2010 Olympic silver medal winning U.S. men's hockey team players are performing this season (through March 31) with less than a year to go until the puck drops in Sochi, Russia.
|David Backes||Forward||St. Louis Blues||3 goals, 16 assits, 33 games|
|Dustin Brown||Forward||Los Angeles Kings||14 goals, 9 assists, 35 games|
|Ryan Callahan||Forward||New York Rangers||9 goals, 6 assists, 31 games|
|Patrick Kane||Forward||Chicago Blackhawks||18 goals, 24 assists, 34 games|
|Ryan Kesler||Forward||Vancouver Canucks||1 goal, 4 assists, 7 games||Was out through Feb. 15 due to injury|
|Phil Kessel||Forward||Toronto Maple Leafs||10 goals, 24 assists, 36 games|
|Jamie Langenbrunner||Forward||St. Louis Blues||0 goals, 1 assist, 4 games||Recovering from hip surgery|
|Ryan Malone||Forward||Tampa Bay Lightning||5 goals, 2 assits, 16 games||Out since March 18 with injury|
|Zach Parise||Forward||Minnesota Wild||15 goals, 15 assits, 34 games|
|Joe Pavelski||Forward||San Jose Sharks||11 goals, 12 assists, 34 games|
|Bobby Ryan||Forward||Anaheim Ducks||9 goals, 16 assists, 35 games|
|Paul Stastny||Forward||Colorado Avalanche||8 goals, 11 assists, 31 games|
|Tim Gleason||Defensemen||Carolina Hurricanes||0 goals, 7 assists, 27 games|
|Erik Johnson||Defensemen||Colorado Avalanche||0 goals, 4 assists, 23 games|
|Jack Johnson||Defensemen||Columbus Blue Jackets||4 goals, 11 assists, 32 games|
|Brooks Orpik||Defensemen||Pittsburgh Penguins||0 goals, 8 assists, 36 games|
|Ryan Suter||Defensemen||Minnesota Wild||3 goals, 25 asists, 34 games|
|Ryan Whitney||Defensemen||Edmonton Oilers||3 goals, 7 assists, 26 games|
|Ryan Miller||Goaltender||Buffalo Sabres||11-15, .911 save percentage, 2.89 goals-against average|
|Jonathan Quick||Goaltender||Los Angeles Kings||12-10-3, .895 save percentage, 2.52 goals-against average|
|Tim Thomas||Goaltender||New York Islanders||Decided not to play this season|