USA Hockey Team Snubs Key Players
Published: Friday, January 17, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 17, 2014 00:01
The Sochi Winter Olympics are fast approaching and United States’ hockey team is poised to open its run for a gold medal against Slovakia in less than a month. While the boys in the Stars and Stripes will not be the “Miracle on Ice”-type underdogs from the 1980 games, the team is by no means the favorite and will need to play its best in order to have a real shot at winning the gold.
David Poile, the general manager of the U.S. Olympic team, lifted a line straight from Disney’s “Miracle” when he said, “We didn’t pick the 25 best players; we picked the 25 players we thought gave us a chance to win the gold medal.” But in a year when Canada, Sweden,and Russia are all set to showcase their best talent, was it a savvy move for the United States to omit some of its most talented stars?
“Miracle’s” Herb Brooks made his statement in an era before professional hockey players were allowed to play in the Olympic Games. A case may be made that team cohesion was more necessary due to the younger age of the players. In today’s games, however, it is nearly unfathomable that some of America’s best talent was left off the roster.
Another reason given for the United States’ balanced roster is the larger rink in the Sochi games. The 2010 games in Vancouver were played at the Canucks’ home rink, which is the standard NHL size. In Sochi, the rink will be both wider and longer. As a result, teams will conceivably need to be more balanced with a stronger defensive presence in order to match up against talented forwards, who will be given more open ice to work with.
Talent is still talent, however, and the most notable snub is the Ottawa Senators’ star forward Bobby Ryan. Seeing as he was a crucial part of the United States’ 2010 silver medal team, his omission from the roster came as a surprise to many, including Ryan himself. Brian Burke, the U.S. director of player personnel, took a shot a Ryan in a conversation about the roster decisions, saying he was omitted because, “He’s a passive guy. He is not intense. That word is not in his vocabulary. It’s never going to be in his vocabulary. He can’t spell intense.” Ryan responded by calling Burke “gutless” and — though Poile apologized to him on behalf of the team’s management — was clearly agitated over the way the process played out.
Bickering aside, it is a shame that fans will not get to see the talented winger on the ice. For what Ryan may lack in speed and defense, he more than makes up for in his ability to put the puck in the net. As for Burke’s view on Ryan’s lack of intensity, the winger seemed to demonstrate more than enough passion in his fiery response to Burke’s allegations.
The U.S. also faces roster controversies on the blue line, albeit without the intense heated exchange of words. Keith Yandle, a defenseman for the Phoenix Coyotes, has been snubbed repeatedly for the Olympic roster. Yandle, despite his great passing and vision on the ice, is among the most underrated defensemen in the league. Dustin Byugflin is a talented, right-shooting defenseman whose athleticism would have helped Team USA. Additionally, both Jack Johnson and Eric Johnson deserved consideration as athletic defensemen, especially in place of a bigger and slower defenseman like Brooks Orpik, who may face some difficulties in the fast-paced Olympic Games.
Finally, the most important element of a gold medal run in the Olympics is having a hot goaltender and no two American goalies have been hotter this season than Ben Bishop and Corey Schneider. Ryan Miller, Jonathan Quick and Jimmy Howard — the three goaltenders that did make the team — are nothing to scoff at between the pipes and were likely chosen for their experience. Nevertheless, it seems unwise not to give the best performing goalkeepers a chance to shine on the Olympic stage.
The United States roster still looks poised to medal in February, despite these concerns. But to maximize its chances, USA management should have maximized its talent. They did not and as a result, it is hard to picture Team USA vying for the gold medal. Fans will see a good blend of speed, skill and toughness, but match ups against other star-studded rosters like Canada, Sweden and Russia will demonstrate what could have been if the US took who was best rather than simply those who fit.
Matt Castaldo is a junior in the College. FULL CONTACT appears every Friday.