Sunday, February 14, 2010

Team USA Preview

Cue the NBC Olympic music. I'm getting pumped. It helps that the Bruins went into the break with a 4-0 roadtrip so I'm no longer considering ballet and yoga in lieu of being a hockey fan. I'm covering Team USA because captain Jamie Langenbrunner was just 3 years ahead of me on the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Lumberjacks in Northern Minnesota. The amount of pride in my hometown for Jamie is immense - my mother says the local paper devoted a big spread to him the other day.

Here's the schedule:
Tuesday, Feb 16 - Switzerland @ 3 PM EST
Thursday, Feb 18 - Norway @ 3 PM EST
Sunday, Feb 21 - Canada @ 7:40 PM EST

Obviously, the USA is heavily favored in the first two games, but they better be ready because Jonas Hiller and Switzerland could easily surprise them. Teams in all three groups will be competing for points (using the three-point system) and the top 4 overall earn a first round bye. The USA/Canada game will likely have a bye at stake (though it would be possible for both teams to earn a bye). This is big because if you do not acquire a bye, you will be forced to play Tues-Weds-Fri-Sun to win the gold instead of just Weds-Fri-Sun.

The three-point system! Take notes Gary Bettman. This is how the NHL Standings should work because the current system is ridiculous. Winning in regulation garners 3 points. Making it to overtime gives 1 point to each team and the team that wins in overtime or the shootout gets an additional point. This makes EVERY GAME worth three points! A novel idea. If applied to the NHL, teams that are skills competition specialists would not be rewarded as much they presently are.

I swell with pride when the olympics come around because I grew up with the college game. 17 of the 23 members of the USA roster got their start in the college ranks. Unfortunately, none of them are from my UMD Bulldogs, but 9 of the 17 hail from the WCHA which is easily the best conference in the college game (and I'll have words with anyone that tries to tell me Hockey East is better). There are three former Wiconsin Badgers which is the most of any one school (Pavelski, Rafalski, and Ryan Suter). For you Hockey East supporters, there are 4 reps: Quick, Orpik, Whitney, and Drury. Speaking of Drury, I don't know why he is on this team (leadership shmeadership when your game is that far in the tank) - I am hoping he is the healthy scratch forward. Count me among the many who think Tim Connolly should be there instead.

My key to this tournament is the young defensive corps. Veterans Rafalski and Orpik are going to have to provide leadership for the relatively inexperienced Johnson's, Gleason, Suter, and Whitney. If this young D corps can hold their own and Ryan Miller can regain his early season form, the USA could pull off an upset or two and make their way to the gold medal game. I'm psyched to see how this young group of forwards comes together - many of us Bruins fans will actually be rooting for Phil Kessel for the next two weeks.

And, as a Bruins fan, I'm just hoping Ron Wilson gives Timmy a chance to play in garbage time against Norway perhaps. He has to be third on the depth chart with the emergence of Quick this season.

Look for coverage of Slovakia, The Czech Republic, Germany, and Canada from other View From 311 contributors in the next couple weeks as we keep an eye on all of the Bruins...

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