The men’s ice hockey tournament at the 2014 Sochi Games is expected to be the most thrilling and popular even at the Olympics. We’re breaking down all 12 teams until the tournament begins on Wednesday, Feb. 12.
The United States competes in Group A in the 2014 Winter Olympics. They're coached by Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Here are five reasons why they could totally medal in Sochi:
OK, maybe the U.S. goaltending isn't entering the tournament as strong as many predicted, but they still have Ryan Miller. The MVP from the Vancouver Games has posted a .923 save percentage this season (.926 at even strength) and as he showed in 2010, he's capable of being that "hot" goaltender in a short tournament. But will Dan Bylsma lean his way?
2. Ghosts of 2010
The U.S. came within a goal of defeating rival Canada and winning gold in Vancouver. They weren't expected to go that far, but they surprised everyone along the way. Now the USA Hockey mindset has changed and gold is the expectation with this team. GM David Poile and his staff pieced together the roster like jigsaw puzzle to suit the international ice and to win gold. While some members of the 2010 team have moved on from the loss, Ryan Miller has said he's not entirely over how things ended four years ago.
3. Big ice not a big problem
The 2006 Olympics were the last played on international ice. The U.S. went 1-3-1 in group play and fell to Finland in the quarterfinals. The other time we saw big ice was 1998 in Nagano, where the Americans went 1-2-0 and lost to the eventual gold medal-winning Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. But as Chris Peters pointed out, times have changed and these players have plenty of experience winning on the bigger ice surface at various levels of international play.
4. Scoring balance
Eight players on the U.S. squad have reached 20 goals in the NHL this season. In four years, the likes of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Patrick Kane, among others, have blossomed into offensive forces. There are no true numbered lines at all-star tournaments like the Olympics, so it certainly helps Bylsma and company that any one of their lines on the ice is capable of providing offense when needed.
5. They're due
We haven't seen the U.S. on the podium at an Olympics outside of North America since the 1972 Games in Japan. It's been 42 years. Thirteen players are back from the 2010 squad that won silver. USA Hockey has grown leaps and bounds in terms of player development. Anything less than gold for them will be a disappointment, even though the "underdog" tag will be played up.
OK, C’mon, Can They Really Medal In Sochi?
Once again, the Americans are considered an underdog in the tournament. With the likes of Canada, Russia and even Sweden receiving a lot of the top buzz, it's tough to predict where the U.S. will finish. But c'mon, This is Team USA we're talking about. They embrace the underdog role. If Ryan Miller, or whoever, ends up winning the no. 1 job and plays the position like he did four years ago, they could find themselves on the medal podium -- possibly on top.