Monday, February 15, 2010
The second highest seeded team in Group A at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Tournament is the United States.
The United States National Ice Hockey Team is currently ranked 5th in the IIHF World Rankings, tied for their highest ranking in their history. Like several other countries, their ranking is hampered by their annual performance during the World Championships each spring, as a number of their best players are historically unavailable either due to competing annually in the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs, or passing on the opportunity to compete in the World Championships in order to give injuries they have been playing with a chance to properly heal.
Based on their status as one of the top nine ranked countries, the United States was automatically entered in the 2010 Olympic tournament, allowing them avoid the qualification process for teams outside the top nine.
The United States have participated in the Olympics in ice hockey 20 times since 1920, with their best results being a pair of gold medals in 1960 and 1980, both times as hosts of the Olympics. Most recently, they placed 8th in the last Olympics in 2006, a disappointing followup to 2002's silver medal, also won at home. Other medals won by the United States are silver medals in 1920, 1924, 1932, 1952, 1956 and 1972 and their only bronze in 1936.
The United States are regular participants in the World Championships, having first participated in 1931, where they won a silver medal, the first of four silvers they would win up through 1950. Their highest finish at the World Championships came in 1933 when they won the gold medal. The 1960 Olympic championship also counted as the World Championship back then, giving the USA a total of two golds. The American's bronze medals came in 1949, 1962, 1996 and 2004.
Considered one of the hockey world's top six teams, the United States have also participated in the six team Canada Cup five times, with a best finish of second in 1991, and the eight team World Cup of Hockey twice, winning the championship in 1996.
The United States enters the 2010 Olympics with all 23 players on it's roster from the NHL. It is also undergoing a youth movement, with 18 of those players born after the last gold medal was won in 1980. With only three returning members of the 2006 team and tons of inexperience, one might wonder if the USA braintrust has gone too far with the youth movement, but in light of just one win and their eighth place finish in 2006, it was clear that standing pat was not going to work in 2010 and the next generation of America talent was the only option going forward.
Gone from the last Olympic team are Jason Blake, Chris Chelios, Eric Cole, Craig Conroy, Robert Esche, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, John Grahame, Bill Guerin, Derian Hatcher, Brett Hedican, Mike Knuble, Mike Modano, Mark Parrish, Brian Rolston, Matthew Schneider, Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight - all born in the 1970's except for Schneider and Chelios who were born in the 1960's. The only holdovers from 2006 are Chris Drury (33), who has won at every level he's ever played at, and Brian Rafalski (36).
The other veterans for the United States include captain Jamie Langenbrunner (34) and goalie Tim Thomas (35).
The youth movement begins with Patrick Kane, age 21, and continues with Erik Johnson (21), Phil Kessel (22), Bobby Ryan (22) and Jack Johnson (23). Johnathan Quick, Paul Stastny, Ryan Callahan, Ryan Suter, Dustin Brown, Ryan Kesler, Joe Pavelski, Zach Parise and David Backes are all 25 or under.
The remainder of the roster includes Ryan Whitney (26), Tim Gleason (27), Brooks Orpik (29), Ryan Miller (29) and Ryan Malone (30).
And just how inexperienced is this roster that averages just 26 1/2 years old? Not one forward on the team has ever scored a goal in the Olympics. None.
With the format for this year's Olympics calling for the top four teams after the Preliminary Round to receive byes into the quarterfinals, the key for the United States will be defeating the capable Swiss, a team that finished ahead of them in 2006, in their opening game on February 16th to earn vital points and establish confidence in the young roster. If they do not beat Switzerland, their hopes of a bye into the Quarterfinals are gone.
Once by Switzerland, making sure they defeat Norway by as many goals as possible in their game on February 18th is a priority to establish the strongest possible goal differential to aid in their earning the important bye.
If they do not defeat Canada, earning a point against them might earn them the fourth bye, or would at least allow them to draw a lesser ranked opponent for the knockout games on February 23rd, when teams ranked 5-12 at the conclusion of the preliminary round square off to determine which four nations will advance to the quarterfinals.
The United States, like so many other teams, will go as far as their goaltending can carry them. Miller is having a good season in Buffalo and can be a difference maker. Kane and Parise lead Americans in NHL scoring, with Kesler, Langenbrunner, Ryan and Malone all in the top seven. Those players must find the net in order for the Americans to advance through the playoff round and contend for a medal. While capable of earning a medal this time out, this has the look of a dangerous team in 2014, should the NHL players be allowed to participate for another time, a topic we address after the conclusion of our look at the American roster at the end of today's entry.
Today's featured jersey is a 2008 Team USA Zach Parise jersey as worn during the 2008 World Championships. Each team wore a vintage jersey during the 2008 World Championships as part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations. The United States wore this throwback jersey based on the jerseys worn when they won the gold medal at the 1960 Olympics.
The USA wore this jersey on May 2, 2008 in a 4-0 win over Latvia in a game where Parise scored one of the three American goals.
In the tournament, Parise has five goals and three assists for eight points in seven games as the United States finished the tournament classified sixth.
Unlike most other teams who wore their vintage jerseys only once, the USA has continued to use these jerseys as part of their set.
Similar to the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team, the 1960 team was comprised of college and amateur players in accordance with the rules of the day. The US advanced to the final round by defeating Czechoslovakia 7-5 and Australia 12-1. Yes, Australia!
In the final round, the United States defeated Sweden 6-3 to keep pace with Canada, winners of six of eight gold medals up to that point, and the Soviet Union, who had won the previous Olympics in 1956 and would then win seven of nine Olympic gold medals starting in 1956.
Two days later the United States would defeat Germany 9-1 as Canada won again and the Soviets dropped back thanks to a tie with Sweden.
The next day, February 25th, the United States upset Canada by a score of 2-1 behind Jack McCartan's 39 saves and the Russians took their turn beating Germany by a score of 7-1.
The United States put themselves in a position to win by beating the Soviet Union for the first time ever by a score of 3-2 after falling behind 2-1. Canada kept up the pressure with a 6-5 win over Sweden, leaving the USA at 4-0, Canada at 3-1 and the Soviet Union at 2-1-1.
The final game for the United States was played the next morning at the incredibly early starting time of 8 AM, as clearly the influence of scheduling games in order to maximize TV ratings had not yet begun! Their opponents were Czechoslovakia, who came into the game with a 2-2 record.
The United States trailed 4-3 after two periods, but dominated the third period with six goals, including three from Roger Christian, to win the game 9-4 and finish the tournament undefeated at 7-0 to capture the gold medal.
Here is a look at the jerseys that the United States will be wearing in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. The United States are unique in that they will be the only team wearing three jerseys in Vancouver. The familiar logo with the "waving S" design is gone due to the International Olympic Committee rigorously enforcing it's rules forbidding sports federations from using logos used for marketing on jerseys of Olympic teams, which affected the United States, Canada, Slovakia and Sweden to varying degrees. While Slovakia and Sweden traditionally had their federation logos worn as small patches on their chest, the United States and Canada both previously used logos now barred as the main crests for their jerseys.
The new jersey features the classic block-letter USA, which was used on the United States Olympic jerseys from 1952 to 1984. In addition, the jersey also features the "We the People" graphic on the arms and lower back that includes a variety of patriotic elements, if you can possibly get an up close look at one for long enough. There is now also a shooting star logo on the shoulders of the jersey that is of the same tribal tattoo style of the graphic. Both seem to fly in the face of the retro feel of the main USA cresting. When seen from a distance, the jerseys are somewhat underwhelming, but do have a certain retro feel. Up close, the shooting star logo seems far too modern for the vintage look and the We the People graphic is so busy and used so subtly, one wonders why they even bothered to incorporate it when you compare it to the single element eagle used so successfully on the German jerseys.
The highlight of the set is the reprise the classic vintage jersey worn by the United States once in the 2008 World Championships as part of the IIHF Centennial Celebrations, which were based on the jerseys originally worn by the United States when they won the gold medal for the first time in 1960. In truth, the United States would have been the best dressed team in Vancouver had they adopted the vintage jersey as their main home jersey and produced a blue version as the road, which would have been stunning.
First up today are highlights from the game versus Latvia where the 1960 throwback jerseys were worn by the USA.
Here is Billy Christian's game winning goal versus the Soviet Union in the 1960 Olympics on the next to last day of the tournament, a game played outdoors.
Finally, the trailer from the movie "Forgotten Miracle" about the gold medal winning 1960 USA Olympic Hockey Team.
Dasherboard: Speaking of if the NHL players will be allowed to participate in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, there is talk that the NHL may not take part.
Gary Bettman has been quoted as saying "It is a strain on the players, on the schedule and on our fans here. It has an impact on the momentum of the season and the benefits we get tend to be greater when the Olympics are in North America than when they're in distant time zones."
"Vancouver was an easy call because we're going to play the games in Canada. Salt Lake City was an easy call. Japan and Italy might not have given us in terms of focus and attention and impact what we may have hope from taking a 17-day break. I think after Vancouver we'll have to take a deep breath, debrief and make sure that when we balance the pros and cons from going to the Olympics, the pros exceed the cons if we're going to do it again."
We personally don't think it's right or fair, especially to the Russians hosting the games in 2014 or the French, Germans or South Koreans, one of whom will win the right to host the 2018 games, to have the NHL decide to not allow the best players in the world to participate in the largest sporting stage in the world based principally on the location of the event. Either you're in, or your not - permanently. No cherry picking the events that fit your specific business's needs and preferences.
National soccer leagues take all kinds of breaks for their players to return home for international competitions every year, even for "friendlies" that are not even part of any ongoing tournament, but the NHL thinks it can't take a 17 day break once every four years? That is a very selfish stance.
It seems really odd that a league that is making a regular habit of starting the schedule by sending regular season games overseas to Prague, Helsinki, Stockholm and London would suddenly have a problem with sending their players overseas to participate in thrilling games that we could actually watch. An Olympic gold medal final on a major network will certainly gather more attention than the Rangers and Lightning playing in Prague. How many of you watched that one?
International hockey has provided some of the most memorable and dramatic moments in hockey history and removing the finest players available from that equation will take much of the interest and luster off of the Olympic tournament now that the genie is out of the bottle.
Now that we've seen the best, anything less is not going to be the same ever again, and it's not fair to nations that happen by circumstance to be located out of North America expect them to be happy with anything different. The Miracle on Ice is never going to happen again. The best Russian players are now playing in the NHL and won't even be there to be defeated by a scrappy bunch of collegiate Americans.
You won't even have a team of collegiate Americans again anyway. With professionals now allowed, the 2014 version of Team USA would likely be made up of a combination of AHL and European based professionals, with but a few college players perhaps in the mix. The system in place in 1980 does not exist anymore. And who wants to return to a system where one team dominates for generations at a time the way it used to be, especially if European based leagues such as the KHL continue to break for the Olympics while the NHL doesn't? Since opening up the games to the stars of the NHL six out of a six possible different nations have played for the gold medal, an era of balanced competitiveness the Olympic hockey tournament has never seen before.
International hockey has provided us with many memorable moments, such as the 1972 Summit Series, the 1987 Canada Cup, the 2002 Olympics and the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. For the NHL to walk away from that opportunity to promote the game of hockey and it's star players on the largest stage possible seems inexcusable.
Think about it. How often to you watch swimming? Track and Field? About once every four years we imagine. And there's a whole world of people out there who don't watch hockey who will tune in because it's the Olympics, and even if they don't turn into regular, every day fans, the whole point of the Olympics is to send the best athletes in the world to competing for their countries, win or lose.
Let's face it, NHL hockey is not exactly playing to capacity crowds in all 30 buildings these days and passing on the opportunity to be involved in the one sporting event that generates the largest, widest audience for hockey worldwide simply makes no sense to us.
I can only hope that Alexander Ovechkin's stance on participating in the 2014 games carries enough clout with his position, also supported by fellow Russians Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, as arguably the best player in the world and face of the NHL, to bring enough of the right kind of pressure an attention to this matter before the decision is made behind closed corporate doors based primarily on financial reasons.
"Nobody can say to me you can't play for your country in the Olympic Games, " Ovechkin told ESPN.com. "I don't care. I'll go play in the Olympic Games for my country. If somebody says to me you can't play, see ya." Ovechkin even has the support of his owner, Ted Leonsis, who stated, "...I always have his back. So I've told him, "If this is what you want to do, I'm going to do my best to help make it happen. I hope it never comes to the league says no and Alex says he's going, because I'd probably fly him over myself."
Luckily for fans of the Olympics like us, we are thankful that the next Olympics is scheduled for Russia, giving the three Russian superstars extra passion to support the cause of the NHL's participation in the 2014 games since they will be hosted by their home country and wonder would their level of support be the same if the 2014 games were to instead be in South Korea?
Fortunately, the player's union, the NHLPA has repeatedly stated they fully support continued participation and hopefully the NHL floating the possibility of non-participation in the Olympics is just using this as an opportunity to save this issue as one where they can be seen as giving a concession to the players as part of the next collective bargaining agreement, a phrase we hope we never have to use again on Third String Goalie.