Watching the announcement of the U.S. Olympic roster was somewhat depressing. Juxtaposed against the national holiday which was the Canadian roster announcement — not to mention the talented Swedish and Russian rosters — it was clear the U.S. has very little chance for Olympic gold.
It’s one reason why we’re all fired up around here for Tuesday’s World Junior gold medal game against Canada; it may be the U.S.’s one chance this year for gold.
The 1980 Olympics was, of course, a watershed moment for U.S. hockey. The success of that Olympic team led directly to the 1996 World Cup team, where the best Americans in the world defeated the best Canadians in the World on a big stage for the first time, in a best-of-three series no less, and on Canadian soil.
And most of that roster came directly from the college ranks — Guerin, Tkachuk, Weight, Rolston, Amonte, Richter, Chelios, Leetch, Hull — aided by the likes of Pat Lafontaine, Jeremy Roenick and Mike Modano. These are superstars — numerous Hall of Famers — direct descendents of the 1980 squad.
Where are those names now?
As an American hockey fan, and, in particular, a college hockey fan, there is great pride in the 2010 Olympic roster. The vast majority of names are straight out of the U.S. college ranks, including all seven defensemen and all three goaltenders. And I happen to think that the U.S. seven defensemen will develop into better players, top to bottom, than Canada’s seven. And an eighth, former Hobey winner Matt Carle, could make a case for being there as well.
The problem is, there are no stars up front. There is no Tkachuk, there is no Guerin. And there is certainly no Ovechkin, Malkin or Crosby. Or Alfredsson or Zetterberg.
The 1996 team was loaded, and it also rose to prominence at a time when Gretzky and Lemieux weren’t there.
In fairness, many of the 1996 players — like Amonte, etc… — did not develop into stars until years after they were in the NHL. So this roster has the potential to come up with guys who develop that way. And Zach Parise is there already.
But it’s clear there is a dearth of those players in the NHL right now.
It looks like Brian Burke was trying to create a roster to gain experience for 2014 rather than give Team USA the best chance to win in 2010. I would’ve put a Modano or Guerin on there, just for the experience and leadership factor. Chris Drury is not enough in that regard.
On the other hand, if he’s going to go the way he did, I think Burke needed to have some more power forward types on there. There aren’t enough of them. Guys like Kyle Okposo and James van Riemsdyk, who I’ve seen play a lot this year, and have been quality workhorses.
It’s interesting the U.S. finds itself in this position, because it comes at a time when there are more quality former NCAA players in the NHL right now than ever before. And it comes at a time when the Under-18 and Under-20 (World Junior) teams for the U.S. do very well in international tournaments every year.
They just lack the superstar skill forwards — the extra one player or so in every Under-20 crop that adds up to five or six of those players over a 15-year span. Eric Staal, Rick Nash, Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla and so on.
I couldn’t tell you how to close that gap, but we’ve got a ways to go.