USA! USA! USA!

January 28, 2010

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Goon Squad

USA! USA! USA!

Has it been 30 years now since the US beat the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid?(It seems like only yesterday...)

The Americans went on to win the gold medal in hockey that year - something that hasn't happened since, but don't expect any miracles next month at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. No, the United States still isn't favored to win a gold medal in hockey. In that respect the Americans remain underdogs. But with a roster stacked with young talent, they certainly are a medal candidate - one that the powerhouses from Canada, Russia and Sweden can't afford to overlook. "A little bit different situation [than 1980] in my opinion," said United States team captain Jamie Langenbrunner, a forward with the NHL's New Jersey Devils. "As much as Canada deserves all the credit that they're getting for the players they have, the 23 players named to the [United States] team play in the same league as those guys and we feel quite comfortable playing against them on a nightly basis. We feel we belong on the same ice."

That's a far cry from goalie Jim Craig and the 1980 team! US coach Herb Brooks had to convince that group of college All-Stars that it could compete with the grown men the Soviet Union sent over. But since 1998 the NHL has allowed its professional players to compete at the Winter Olympics. So this group of Americans is baffled by the notion that they would be intimidated by any of the major hockey powers.

Told of stories in the Canadian press that listed him as the only American capable of making the loaded Team Canada roster, forward Zach Parise chuckled. "I think that's kind of a bold statement," said Parise, also a New Jersey Devils forward. "I don't think there's going to be too many people that would agree with that."

The average age of Team USA is just 26. Parise is virtually a veteran among the forwards at 25. He will play on the top line along with Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane - a 21-year-old already in his third full NHL season, who ranks sixth in the league in scoring (59 points). Colorado Avalanche forward Paul Stastny, 24, will center that line. Forwards Phil Kessel, 22, Bobby Ryan, 22, Dustin Brown, 26, Ryan Kesler, 24, and Joe Pavelski, 25, all will be key contributors - at this Olympics and beyond. This group is on average five years younger than the 2006 squad in Turino (31.6 years) that finished a disappointing eighth. "We have turned the page generationally for USA Hockey" said general manager Brian Burke, who holds that same position with the Toronto Maple Leafs. "And that was not done without a great deal of agonizing thought on behalf of the committee that put this group together. But we're excited about a team that we think has balance and versatility and speed and youth."

Team USA notes:

» Team USA head coach Ron Wilson led the Capitals to their lone appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. He currently coaches the Toronto Maple Leafs. (NOT a good sign!)

» Longtime Team USA members Chris Chelios, Bill Guerin, Keith Tkachuk and Mike Modano were not selected for this year’s squad. (Mikey was ROBBED!)

» The United States has medaled just once in men’s hockey since 1980, earning silver at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. (Hmmmmm...)

When the Olympic hockey tournament finally gets rolling, most of the fans in Canada are aware of the obvious rule changes between the NHL and the IIHF.

Everyone knows they use no-touch icing because Canadian blow-hard Don Cherry and his idiot side-kick Ron MacLean discuss it every other fucking week!

And from years of watching the World Championships and World Juniors from Europe, fans tend to be aware the clock runs forward to 20 minutes instead of backwards from 20 minutes each period.

But that's just the beginning.

Take for example, faceoff rules: Because the Olympics is such a short tournament and the team designated home has not earned that home advantage by virtue of playing in the other team's building on another day, the IIHF has wisely taken steps to mitigate that home advantage. In the faceoff circle, the centre in the attacking zone puts his stick on the ice first, as opposed to the visitor in the NHL. Needless to say the linesmen are going to have to be constantly policing these guys to avoid a delay on every faceoff. "It's a real problem getting used to the change," says Henrik Sedin, who has developed into one of the better faceoff men in the game. "I know during the lockout back in Sweden the change took a lot of getting used to and with most of the guys from the NHL it's an adjustment, for sure."

One of the top faceoff men for the Americans doubtless will be Ryan Kesler, who may well be called upon by Ron Wilson to take the key defensive-zone draws. Putting your stick down first, thinking you're the visitor, could get you thrown out - or not putting your stick down first could produce the same result. Also, a faceoff after a penalty is at the spot nearest the infraction, not in the offending team's defensive zone, as it is in the NHL now. When you look at the importance of the key draws in all of these sudden-death games, it's potentially a huge factor.

"You can't play the puck with your feet either, can you?" says Kesler. "At least that's the way I understand it." At this point, everyone in the discussion agrees Kyle Wellwood would be screwed.

It goes beyond the faceoff dot. If you lose your helmet during the game, you can go fish for it and put it back on or you can go to the bench. But if you keep playing without the lid, you'll get a penalty. "I know the rule, but the NHL player's natural instinct is to keep playing," says Christian Ehrhoff, who laughs at the possibility his team will have an advantage given Germany has fewer NHL players. "I know that rule, and you've got to have your chin strap done right up," says Henrik, pointing with his finger right up into his throat and making a face like he's being guzzled in the process before smiling.

Let's keep it going.

If you don't wear your helmet during the warmup, that's a penalty.

There are no video reviews to be conducted to determine whether a puck hits a skate and goes into the goal. Only a crossing-the-goal-line question can be answered by video review. The referee's ruling on the ice stands, period. And that's crucial because the rule is different. There is nothing in the IIHF rule book about kicking the puck into the net with a deliberate kicking motion. Instead, the rule reads "a goal is allowed only if the kicked puck subsequently deflects off a stick of an attacking player and goes into the net." None of the Olympic players in the Vancouver Canucks dressing room could answer the question as to whether a puck hitting your skate if you're absolutely dead still in front of the net would be allowed, but the rule indicates anything off any attacking skate going directly in is disallowed. "But that's if the ref sees it," says Daniel Sedin.

I see you...Because of that comment, they'll now be watching!

Cliff Ronning could help your team because any hit to the head is an automatic penalty, period. It can be a major, too, if it's deemed hard by the ref.

Any player can take a penalty shot, not necessarily the offended player, or even a player on the ice, which means anyone taking down a Russian on a breakaway is taking down Pavel Datsyuk, no matter who's actually wearing that jersey. (Keep that in mind, fellas!)

And while this is something of a generalization on the maze of penalty interpretations, you can get a match penalty for virtually any offence if it's deemed sufficiently serious by the referee.

By the way, does anyone know if that Auger prick is gonna be an Olympic official?

What?

Keywords: Any player can take a penalty shot, fellas!), no matter who's actually wearing that jersey.(Keep that in mind, not necessarily the offended player, or even a player on the ice, which means anyone taking down a Russian on a breakaway is taking down Pavel Datsyuk

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