At the finish of the Winter Classic game played at the Big House in Michigan (and after Dion Phaneuf won a minivan…?), American viewers were treated with the revealing of the 25 men who will represent the red, white, and blue in Sochi next month. Before we all play armchair GM, there are a few things to remember: a) the depth of unbelievably talented players that the United States have bred over the past decades, and b) the management staff responsible for selecting this team and their view on how to coach it. “We did not pick the 25 best players,” general manager David Poile said. “We picked the 25 players we thought gave us a chance to win the gold medal.”
My dissection of this team bears a lot of variables. For one, I’ve never played hockey, nor have I ever managed a hockey club aside from my decent fantasy teams and a few very bad ones. I have, however, played lacrosse – a similar game from a systems standpoint – and I had the fun responsibility of managing a number of players regarding league guidelines and who would fit. Secondly, I’m human. It’s difficult to separate how you feel about a player from what they would provide for a team, which I believe had a stake in some of the selection process. Third, all of us fans are going to have differing opinions and they’re usually based on which team you bleed for. Please keep these in mind while you read ahead.
Our team will be a great representation of the skill that we’ve become accustomed to over the years. The ‘snubs’ that have the most people up in arms are Bobby Ryan, Jack Johnson, Keith Yandle and Kyle Okposo. I think players name aside, the layout is confusing; the roster boasts
six centers flanked by 10 wingers five centers flanked by nine wingers (sorry) on either side. Why “The Board” as they’re so affectionately named chose to go that way, I know not. This decision allotted a spot to Derek Stepan, whose on ice behavior and hockey smarts seemed to out-edge Brandon Dubinsky’s aggressiveness for a spot.
Scott Burnside with ESPN had the luxury of following the selection process from beginning to end, and it really is a wonderful read if you’d like to go behind the scenes (after you read this post, of course). I found it to be interesting, but towards the end it taught us what we already know; a group of men involved with hockey relations had the luck to choose our representation, and they used the same emotions and rational thoughts that any of us would use. There are certain players in the game that make me happy as a Rangers fan (who wouldn’t be stoked to have three players from their team playing?), but the letters on the front of the sweater are very different in Russia. We’re going to see Henrik in the opponent’s net. We’re going to have to defend Nash. And we can’t at any point try to take it easy on these players, despite needing them to play well the following month.
I can’t understand, even after reading the insider’s viewpoint, how Bobby Ryan is not on the USA team for 2014. I also can’t understand how a professional would allow the following quote to be printed: “He is not intense. That word is not in his vocabulary,” Burke says. “It’s never going to be in his vocabulary. He can’t spell intense.” As a respected professional, those are some pretty harsh words, especially when you can search Bobby Ryan and find some of the greatest shots, passes, hockey IQ and, oh, intensity around. Maybe this is one of those that hit me deeper than a rational standpoint, as I absolutely adore watching him playing for the Senators, especially after having a strange exit with Anaheim. He has the Olympic experience as well. It just seems to bear a bit of animosity regarding a player they chose not to select, whereas some of the other explanations were much less… involved.
As far as defense goes, I can’t for the life of me understand how Brooks Orpik, who was recently concussed in such a serious way he was stretchered off the ice, was selected over Yandle. There is talk about chemistry on this team and who would go together well on a penalty kill. I get that. But you’re not looking to employ defensemen who are not as talented – and I absolutely refuse to place that in quotes because I do look at numbers and I do watch these guys on ice – for your entire tournament for the sake of 2 minutes here and there per game. And if you’re going to use that argument, why is Jack Johnson left off? Johnson has a noted incredible work ethic, great size, good numbers and was part of the 2010 squad.
A lot of these decisions are great. Who else can’t wait to see Ryan McDonagh’s hard work showcased to the world? How pretty will Phil Kessel look streaking in for a breakaway in his glittery USA jersey? Maybe Poile and “The Board” are a bunch of geniuses that will lead America to their first gold in over 30 years, and I surely hope that they do. But sometimes it’s hard to not question some of the decisions. At the end of it all, Team USA is a pretty stacked squad and will be well worth waking up at the crack of dawn to watch. Plus, who knows? If someone’s injured, maybe your favorite player will show up and all will be well. I’m personally watching out for Chris Higgins, but hey, I have weird taste.
How did the roster meet your expectations?