U.S. men’s hockey good enough for gold
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It was the overtime goal in the 2010 Games in Vancouver by Canada’s Sidney Crosby, here running through a drill during a training session this week in Sochi, that the U.S. team is out to avenge this time around.
Nobody is picking the U.S. to win the gold medal at Sochi, but the way the Americans see it they have some unfinished business.
They remember their overtime loss to Canada in 2010 at Vancouver on Sidney Crosby’s golden goal and are on a mission to make amends.
“After what we did last time the expectations now are gold or bust,” said U.S. winger Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks.
The Americans are better than they were four years ago and will win the gold medal, beating Canada in the final and gaining their revenge.
The Hawks will have 10 players in Sochi, the most of any team in the NHL.
In addition to Kane playing for the U.S., Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith will skate for Team Canada; Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Marcus Kruger for Team Sweden; Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus for Slovakia; and Michal Rozsival for the Czech Republic.
In 2010 the Hawks had seven players in Vancouver and wound up winning the Stanley Cup.
“If you look back to 2010, we had a handful of guys come back playing the best hockey that they could after that high-paced Olympic style,” Toews said. “I would expect the same thing this time around.
“Having 10 players going to the Olympics just shows the quality of our team.”
Security remains a concern in Russia, but most hockey players aren’t worrying about it.
“A lot of that is storyline and something for people to talk about,” Toews said. “I feel confident in bringing my family over there to enjoy the Olympics. I’m sure this won’t be the first Olympic event that somebody has tried to disrupt in some way, but I’m going thinking I’m going to be safe as well as my family and my teammates and all the other athletes.”
Canada is favored to repeat, but it all will be decided on the ice.
Gold — United States:
The Americans have everything to win it all for the first time since the 1980 Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid: speed, skill, grit, physical play, defense and better goaltending than any other contender in the tournament.
And they are motivated by 2010.
“I would never take away from what they did (in 1980),” U.S. captain Zach Parise said. “They did such a great thing for hockey in the U.S., but I’m hoping now it’s going to be time for us to not keep referring back to 1980. We were close to doing that in 2010. Let’s make 2014 our 1980. It’d be a good time to do that.”
Kane, Parise, Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski and James van Riemsdyk will provide the speed and skill.
The other forwards are bruisers in Dustin Brown, David Backes, Ryan Callahan, Ryan Kesler and Max Paciorietty.
Ryan Suter, Brooks Orpik and the underrated Kevin Shattenkirk, John Carlson, Cam Fowler and Ryan McDonough lead the defense, which has the potential to be very good.
U.S. coach Dan Bylsma has a tough decision in goal, where Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick will arrive in Sochi to compete for the No. 1 job.
Silver — Canada:
The Canadians’ strength is down the middle with Crosby, Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron. But there are too many unanswered questions at wing after Corey Perry, Rick Nash and Sharp.
The Canadians already have had to replace Steven Stamkos, who tried to make it back from a broken leg but couldn’t get the medical clearance. Martin St. Louis will replace Stamkos.
Taveras and Matt Duchene are centers who may have to play wing because of the depth down the middle, which could lead to problems.
The defense is to be led by strong puck movers Keith and Drew Doughty. The Blues’ tandem of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester also will get significant minutes along with Shea Weber.
It’s in goal that Canada faces its biggest question. Neither Roberto Luongo nor Carey Price is playing their best hockey at the moment, so don’t be surprised if Mike Smith sneaks into the top job.
Canada’s Toews claims his team is not feeling the pressure of being the favorite.
“It’s going to be an adjustment for everybody,” Toews said. “Once that first game comes, whether you’re jet-lagged or you haven’t practiced or whatever, nobody really cares. There is no excuse. You put it all behind you and go play as best you can.
“I think that’s just the way you’ve got to look at it.”
Bronze — Sweden:
Goalie Henrik Lundquist is all that separates Sweden from Russia.
Despite the loss of injured Henrik Sedin, who pulled out Thursday after Vancouver doctors refused to clear him, the Swedes have more than enough depth to grab the bronze with Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Backstrom, Gabriel Landeskog, Daniel Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg.
The Swedes are led on defense by Hjalmarsson, Oduya, Alex Edler, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Erik Karlsson and Niklas Kronwall. That’s a pretty good blue line.
The Russians have the home-ice advantage and the most dynamic player in the tournament in Alex Ovechkin, but they will be hurt by the fact there is only 60 percent NHL players on this roster.
The rest of the roster is from the Kontinental Hockey League. That includes Ilya Kovalchuk, but the defense is ordinary and the goaltending (Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov) is mostly unproven in big games.
If Pavel Datsyuk can’t play or is slowed by his injury, the Russians might not even get to the medal round.
• Finland has three quality NHL goaltenders in Tuuka Rask, Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, but the loss of center Mikko Koivu would be a killer. Koivu had ankle surgery four weeks ago and is doubtful for Sochi.
• The Finns are small but quick and could make some noise because of their goaltending.
• Slovakia has Hossa and Zdeno Chara but needs a huge effort from Jaroslav Halak in goal.
• The Czech Republic’s best player is 42-year-old Jaromir Jagr. Enough said.
• The Swiss has a top goalie in Jonas Hiller but little else.
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