Last Saturday, USA Hockey Assistant Executive Director Jim Johannson joined me on Murphy’s Hockey Law to tee up the Olympic Men’s Hockey Tournament and USA’s chances in Sochi. While he agreed with me that it’s important to not live in the past, either dwelling on that crushing gold medal loss to Canada in 2010 or resting on their laurels that they made it that far, Johannson made it clear that the bitter taste left in the 13 returning players from that 2010 squad is now being channeled into motivation.
“From 2010, we’ve got a core of 13 guys back from that team,” Johannson pointed out. “I think what a lot of them from that team here now have taken from that experience was number one, how great the competition was and how great the hockey was in Vancouver. But secondly, carrying that little edge with them about finishing what they wanted to finish in 2010 and not only for the guys that were on that team but for the group coming here and the 25 guys here with the chance to get themselves in a position to do that. I think part of this whole tournament is just about advancing and getting to the next stage. So that’s the mentality these guys will come in with, not so much living in the past but rather getting to that next stage of the tournament and not looking past anybody but always with the goal being to get to that gold medal game. Then the mindset would be let’s have a little different ending than the one we had in Vancouver.”
Now make no mistake that you can’t base a lot on one game or, more specifically, the opening game of an Olympic tournament and that’s why Team USA likely isn’t drowning themselves in top shelf Russian vodka celebrating their 7-1 drubbing of Slovakia Thursday in the opening game of the preliminary round. There’s plenty of hockey to be played and the competition level will likely ramp up to a much higher level when they face off against the host nation Russia. Keep in mind these teams only had two to three practices together prior to their first game and are still building chemistry while shaking off some jet lag. That’s why the first games for favorites like USA, Russia, Canada, Sweden, or Finland can be a minefield of sorts as it’s human nature to look past a lesser opponent.
But that’s also why what the Americans did in dismantling a Slovakian team with 12 NHLers and making Slovakian captain Zdeno Chara feel like he was on an island alone (or no pun intended back in his Islanders days) with their speed was impressive. Future opponents like Russia – who will play USA Saturday – will definitely take notice. USA didn’t treat this game as a feeling out process like Russia did for much of their 5-2 win over Slovenia or Canada did for much of their 3-1 over Norway who had just one NHLer on their roster. Instead, the Americans turned this into a statement game, putting that speed and their impressive depth both up front and on the blue line on display. Yes, things can change in a hurry in this tournament but I couldn’t help but think of what Johannson told me last Saturday and see that while they may not exactly be the Blues Brothers, this team is indeed on a mission to finish what they started in 2010.
–Just to take a closer look at the depth of the USA forward group, only three of the 13 forwards that saw ice time didn’t register a point. Also, the supposed bottom six line of Max Pacioretty–Paul Stastny–T.J. Oshie combined for six points with Stastny leading the way with a goal and two assists.
–On defense, Dan Bylsma had to be very happy with the way he was able to distribute minutes. Yes, Ryan Suter – who leads the NHL in time on ice with 29:49 – logged 19:46 on ice but so did Paul Martin and Kevin Shattenkirk was able to chip in with 19:14. The more rest Suter can get in the preliminary round the better he will be in the medal round
–The other game this scribe watched closely was Canada-Norway (not that I had a choice being in Montreal) and while Canada most definitely wants to play better than they did in their 3-1 win over Norway, the play of the Jamie Benn–John Tavares–Patrice Bergeron line showed just how scary the Canadians’ depth is as well. The line combined for three points with Benn getting what proved to be the game-winning goal and Bergeron adding two helpers. When your supposed fourth line is playing that well, you’ll usually come out on top.
–Finally P.K. Subban was a healthy scratch for Canada Thursday but he will play Friday against Austria. But that didn’t stop the constant hype (that in the eyes of this scribe isn’t Subban’s fault) and controversy that always surrounds the reigning Norris Trophy winner. Of course the city of Montreal was in an uproar as to why their beloved superstar wasn’t in the lineup for Canada but it was a Vancouver Province blog that suggested any and all questioning of Subban’s play is racially motivated. As Subban I’d imagine would likely agree that’s simply asinine and only fuels the unwarranted controversy.