Is This the Right Team USA?

January 12, 2010

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Jeff Ponder

Is This the Right Team USA?

Brian Burke had to find a way to have his team compete in a tough Olympic tournament in February.

Not long after Canada, Russia, Finland and Sweden announced their Olympic rosters, Brian Burke took center stage to announce his team.  At the Winter Classic on January 1, Team USA was unveiled after a thrilling game between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park.  Burke decided to go with youth to try and capture the Gold.

"We've been watching these kids," Burke said after the team announcement. "I think we have a good base. We tried to pick the team based on a body of work, rather than how a player has played at this particular time. A player who had a slow start should not be penalized if he's done good things in the past.”

Along with youth, the USA squad seems to possess great speed and quickness.  Headlining the team is 21-year old Patrick Kane (Buffalo, NY), who has 65 goals in 2 ½ NHL seasons.  Kane is expected to carry most of the goal load for the American team.  Kane spent a lot of time with American hockey as a younger man, being a former member of the U.S. National Team Development Program.

Team USA has also added the New Jersey Devils' young superstar, Zach Parise (Minneapolis, MN).  The 5'11” 190 lb. center is expected to play with Kane on the top line.  Parise's 45 goals last season proved that he is an elite American player.  His quick hands and smart decision-making will be a vital part to American success.

Other top young forwards include 22-year old Phil Kessel (Madison WI; former 36-goal scorer), 25-year old David Backes (Minneapolis, MN; former 31-goal scorer) and 24-year old Paul Stastny (raised in St. Louis, MO; former 71-point scorer).  Burke also selected Jamie Langenbrunner (Cloquet, MN) as the team's captain; one of five players who are over the age of 30. 

Chris Drury (Trumbull, CT) was probably the biggest surprise to make the club, since his six goals and ten assists on the season has landed him a spot in New York Rangers' head coach John Tortorella's dog house.  He is mostly being used on the checking line as of late.  Doug Stolhand of the Puck Podcast did not seem to agree with this selection.

“I'd rather of seen Bill Guerin who brings a little more scoring a little bit more scoring edge,” claimed Stolhand, who broadcasts a weekly hockey show from the Los Angeles area.  “Chris Drury was a terrible pick.”

The defense is rounded out with a core of steady skaters who have a defense-first mindset, yet can move the puck as well as any other player in the tournament. 

21-year old Erik Johnson (Bloomington, MN) has not had the NHL career that he has hoped for thus far.  Missing the entire 2008-09 season, Johnson did come back with a vengeance.  Currently tied for third on the Blues in points (12-12—24), Johnson adds size and long-stretch passes to a strong USA blue line.

Veteran Brian Rafalski (Dearborn, MI) has also been known to be a dynamic offensive player.  A four-time 50-point scorer, Rafalski will be expected to be the leader on the back line.  His experience in international play and the crunch of the NHL playoffs will be a valuable asset to a young team.

What would be naming an Olympic roster without suggestions of favoritism from the media though?

Stolhand went on to talk about Burke's surprise naming of defenseman Mike Komisarek (West Islip, NY) to the team. 

“I think this is a pick that Brian Burke made because he is Toronto's GM and that's his guy and he would have to face that guy,” said Stolhand.  “Ryan Whitney is the better pick.  Mike Komisarek is a pylon.”

The goaltending may be the strongest quality of Team USA.  Buffalo Sabres' all-star Ryan Miller (East Lansing, MI) is projected to be the opening day starter.  Miller has lit up the NHL stats sheet all season.  Just recently, Miller finally fell behind the 2.00 GAA mark after having it 1.99 or under all season, which is an accomplishment that most goalies cannot say they have been a part of.  Despite this, his .935 save percentage is still the best in the league.

2008-09 Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas (Flint, MI) has fallen from the top spot due to his average performance this season.  His 12-11-5 record is not something that the 35-year old goalie likes to brag about, but has still posted a respectable .918 save percentage.

Another surprise on the squad is 23-year old Jonathan Quick (Milford, CT).  The young Los Angeles King starter has led the Kings from the NHL cellar to a current spot in the NHL playoffs.  His quick reaction time and good recovery skills have made him the better choice over Colorado starter Craig Anderson.

With all of the question marks surrounding the roster, there is no doubt Brian Burke and company want to get the Olympics started so that they can try and prove their nay-sayers wrong.  Burke has some strong words to those that may be questioning his motives.

"As I've said before, no bold predictions, no bulletin board material, we're there to win."

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