This is not your average ice hockey. For the 25 players of the U.S. men’s hockey team, the secret to success in Sochi will be their ability to create quick chemistry.
In crafting the final roster – and with plenty to choose from in one the deepest pools of NHL talent – USA Hockey arrived in Sochi having made its final selections with player dynamics in mind.
“This is a unique tournament and it creates a unique challenge,” head coach Dan Bylsma said of his team’s chemistry. “The team that comes together and figures that out the fastest will be the one that is most victorious.”
Months of planning and consideration led to the return of 13 players from the silver medal-winning team from the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games – a far cry from four years ago, when the team featured three players with Olympic experience.
General manager David Poile and his Olympic management team built the 2014 roster around speed and skill – key characteristics for success on the larger international rink. Team USA begins round-robin play Thursday against Slovakia.
Assistant GM Ray Shero has stepped into Poile’s position in Sochi as the longtime Team USA general manager recovers from surgery, having been hit by an errant puck during a recent Nashville Predators practice.
The U.S. team is in contention for a medal in Sochi with veteran players like goaltender Ryan Miller – the 2010 Olympic tournament MVP – and team captain Zach Parise, who tied as the team’s leading scorer.
Along with Parise, the U.S. also returns one of the NHL’s most gifted players in Patrick Kane, who has the ability to be a game-changer, as does returnee Phil Kessel, who is among the NHL’s top scorers this season. The U.S. also boasts returning Olympians David Backes, Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan, who are current captains of NHL teams.
“There’s no shortage of leadership,” Parise said. “There’s plenty of guys who are leaders, we’re not lacking in that area. With those type of guys leading the way and with players like Patrick with their skill, we’re going to be a hard team to play against.”
Team USA is expected to battle traditional hockey powers Canada and Russia, in addition to Sweden and Finland. Teams like Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia also look to join the medal conversation.
Since NHL players began participating at the Games in 1998, the United States has had limited success outside of North America. At the Nagano Games, the U.S. finished sixth, while at the Torino Games, Team USA was eighth.
Team USA drove the tournament all the way to overtime in the gold-medal final at the 2010 Games before Canada captured gold and Team USA settled for silver. In Sochi, Brown plans to use those memories to propel the team forward.
“Sometimes a loss like that will motivate you more than anything else,” Brown said. “I remember how I felt after Vancouver and it is one of those things I will keep in the back of my mind this time.”