Back in February, the “Rink Round Up” took an early look at some of USA Hockey’s best and brightest and provided a break down of some of the players that may find their way on to the American roster when the 2014 Olympics commence in Sochi. It was a fun exercise in speculation with the hopes of sparking some debate and to be honest, it didn’t take too long to compile the names of those who might be in the running. In 2010, the U.S. enjoyed the role of the underdog on the international stage and in what was a “transition” year, the club managed to take the mighty Canadians all the way to overtime in the Gold Medal game before Sidney Crosby sent 30 million fanatics North of the border in to hysteria. With the American youth movement and success at the Vancouver games, the U.S. should have enough to build on to be a real threat for another Medal in two years. The crop of forwards who went to the 2010 games have continued to improve and of the top 20 American born scoring leaders in the NHL this year, 11 were on the Olympic roster last year. That stat, along with the Silver Medal, would indicate that Brian Burke and company got the right guys during their last go around.
Canada meanwhile brought a mix of young and old to Vancouver when they captured Gold, and despite finishing on top of the world, they seemingly have the resources to go nowhere but up and the future couldn’t look brighter. This season Steven Stamkos scored 60 goals. His line mate Marty St. Louis appears to be unaffected by Father Time and put up 74 points. Through the better part of two incredibly exciting playoff games, Daniel Briere has again proven he is one of the games great clutch performers for the Flyers and Claude Giroux continues to show he may be as offensively gifted a talent as there is in the National League. What do these four have in common? None of them were a part of Team Canada in 2010, and that worked out just fine for Steve Yzerman and his management team. Stamkos and Giroux would appear to be locks this time around up front, as would guys like Crosby and Jonathan Toews, but after that, there is a lot of uncertainty at forward for the reigning champs, and that is just fine with Yzerman and the crew that will again be tasked with assembling the game’s most talented roster.
The options up front for Canada seem limitless. Of the 13 forwards they brought to Vancouver, only Jarome Iginla will be older then 35 when 2014 comes around, so all will likely still be in the League and technically still in play, though it is unlikely that management will opt to keep all of their eligible returning “thirty somethings” (Thornton, Marleau, Morrow and Heatley will all be approaching their mid 30’s by that point). Certainly no reason to hit the panic button though, as there is tons of young talent ready and willing to step in if and when called upon.
This is where the Canadians depth gets scary if you are anyone outside of the country…..Remember when I said the U.S. seemed to have gotten the “right guys” in 2010 based in part on their rostered players performance and rank among their American peers this season? The majority of the players that made up the Canadian Gold Medal roster in 2010 weren’t even close to the top of their nation’s 2011-2012 leader board this season. None of the country’s top 6 scorers this season (Stamkos, Giroux, Spezza, Neal, Tavares, Whitney) were invited to the Games last year. Just three of the 13 forwards (Thornton, Staal, Iginla) who did make the trip to Vancouver and bring home a Gold Medal were in the top 20 among Canadian forwards in scoring during the NHL’s latest campaign.
Brad Richards, Stamkos, Briere, Giroux, Seguin, Eberle, Hall, Lucic, Tavares, Neal, Spezza, and Jordan Staal are just a few of the players who did not appear in the Games in 2010 but will surely look to claim their spot in 2014. The task of choosing the right 13 from their returnees, the group mentioned above, and dozens of other talented hockey players surely is not an enviable one, but with all of those options, it will prove rewarding more often than not.