5 Things That Will Take Team USA to Men’s Hockey Gold
Four years ago, when the U.S. men’s hockey team came up just short in the gold medal match against Canada, its members had made tremendous strides just to get to that point. The silver medal that the U.S. won was the team’s first podium finish since 2002, when the Americans also finished second behind the Canadians. Led by some of the National Hockey League’s best players in 2010, the Americans were finally competitive against the typical Olympic hockey powerhouses: Canada, Russia, Sweden. When the first men’s hockey games of the Sochi Olympics start in a mere few days, Team USA will play a solid field of international teams and will need to beat these same teams to be successful, sometimes even back to back.
When Sidney Crosby scored the overtime goal to give Canada the gold in 2010, it left a bad taste in American mouth, one that wouldn’t go away. And as the U.S. looks to make another deep run in the 2014 edition of the Olympics, 2010’s disappointment still looms. The United States had a young team then, and despite still being relatively young, the squad has 13 players returning from the silver medal-winning team. This is a team of players who will do whatever it takes to win. Considering the Americans’ last gold came in 1980, their win-at-all-cost mentality will be more important than ever.
For U.S. men’s hockey to bring home a gold medal, here are five things it will need to have happen or do as the tournament progresses.
1. Solid goaltending
Success in hockey starts and finishes with a reliable netminder, and Team USA has a problem many teams wouldn’t mind having — too many options between the pipes. The likely choice is Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, but Sabres goalie Ryan Miller has made a strong case for the starting position in the last few months. Miller also has experience on his side: As the starting Olympic goalie in 2010, his quick glove single-handedly saved the Americans more than a few times during their surprise run through the Vancouver Olympics, enough so that he was named the tournament’s MVP.
While it appears that Quick will get the start, he’ll have a short leash, and Miller certainly can be trusted in net if called on. However, head coach Dan Bylsma will want one player to take the job outright — goaltender by committee can hurt both goalies by taking them out of rhythm on the ice. If the U.S. is to have any chance in Sochi, either Quick or Miller will need to perform well above average and have an MVP-type of tournament like Miller did in 2010.