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ESKO… The 2014 Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey rosters have been introduced and there has been plenty of debate ever since. Team USA announced their roster at the conclusion of the NHL Winter Classic, Canada did so on Tuesday the 7th and everyone else involved has put theirs into print as well. Whose roster is generating the most flak? The Canadians choices have been put on the grill and the USA isn’t too far behind. The Russians have had some questions arise as well, but theirs are more related to process as opposed to who has been chosen. Most of the other countries involved haven’t had a lot of commentary in regards to their teams.
My first observation has been about the philosophies utilized as opposed to actual player choices. At least as far as the Canadian and American teams have been built, a lot of attention seems to have been given to the chemistry element of the respective rosters. Size, speed and skill have been given their due, but this time around who can play with who, and how, seems to have taken a heavy precedence over many other factors. I have used this quote many times over the years and there is quite a bit of truth to it. The quote comes from the late, great Herbie Brooks and goes back to the construction of the 1980 “Miracle” team.
If you have seen the Miracle movie you know what I am speaking of, Brooks had been so consumed with this project that he basically has all of his homework done seemingly before the “tryouts” even begin. He has the roster already built in his mind. So when he presents it to Assistant Coach Craig Patrick and Patrick questions it, stating, “these aren’t even the best players Herb”. Brooks famous response was; “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right ones”. He goes on to say that All Star teams always fail in situations such as these. And of course, when it came to hockey Herbie usually knew what he was talking about.
Brook’s decisions led to a Gold medal, they also led to a new and different thought process when it came to these kind of tournaments. With the advent of NHL player dominated rosters, and those chosen being the best of the best, physical play will have some consideration for instance, but with the talent level being where it will be, the Olympic games won’t be played the same as the “heavy” style you see in the NHL. There won’t be any one dimensional players on any roster. These games will be decided by skill and speed. I think the only time size will be a real factor will be in game situations when strength will be needed, and that can be dictated by size. Fistic ability is a non factor.
For the USA the biggest groans came with the omission of scoring threat Bobby Ryan, Kyle Okposo and net minder Ben Bishop. Ryan is tied for 17th in goals scored, Okposo is just under a point per game this year, and Bishop is 2nd in GAA and is 1st in save percentage. The team took Jimmy Howard over Big Ben, probably due to his body of work and Okposo, for his points this year is also a minus 3 player. USA Hockey’s Brian Burke said Ryan is lacking in intensity. This all came to a head when revealed in an article written by ESPN’s Scott Burnside. USA Hockey allowed 2 writers access to the selection process and failed to edit the story for content. When the story came out, the stuff hit the fan.
The Canadians chose not to include wily veteran Martin St. Louis, Jumbo Joe Thornton and net minder Marc-Andre Fluery while being chastised for choosing Rick Nash, goalie Mike Smith, Jeff Carter and Chris Kunitz. Personally I don’t think Nash is on top of it this year, Carter, he is ok, but there is better available, and I don’t get the bruhaha over “Koony’s” selection. I have seen him play many times and he has game as well as bringing the chemistry and experience of playing with fellow Pengwah Sid Crosby.
The Russians have allegedly allowed politics to permeate their roster decisions by putting a roster together that is about half NHLer’s and half KHLer’s. While there are some good players in the KHL, the level of play there is not on par with the NHL and if this is the method used for player selection, the Soviets could have made a huge mistake. Of course, 2 players from the ’K’, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov could play in any league anywhere. They will be tough up front and in net, but I have questions about their blueline selections.
Other Olympic chitchat revolves around injuries and their impact on rosters. Canadian Star player Steven Stamkos suffered a devastating leg break but has been placed on the roster. Wild Captain Mikko Koivu is out and his rehab could take him right up to the Olympic tourney. His brother, Duck star Saku Koivu, has asked not to be chosen for Finland so he can rest up for the remainder of the NHL campaign. Wild forward Zach Parise is out with a fractured foot and no word on his progress as of yet. The Pens Paul Martin is also out, but should be ready for the tourney. For me, I am ready for the tourney to start right now! Lets go!
THE MINNESOTA WILD have come off of one streak and have went right into another. After a 6 game losing streak put Wild fans patience through the wringer lately, the club has now embarked on a better, more positive one. The team reeled off 4 wins in a row, lost one to the Avalanche on Saturday eve, and then went to the Music City and blanked the Pred’s tonight 4-0. And this while missing some of the heart and soul of their roster in Koivu, Harding and Parise. Next 3 are Ottawa, the Oilers and NorthStars, all at home before a return match with the N-Stars in the Big ’D’ three nights later. The Nashville win moved the club back into the 8th Western playoff spot over Phoenix, however, the Yotays have 4 games in hand. Ouchie! Lets Go Wild! Big Hockey weekend coming up in Minny! PEACE
Marc Elliott is a free lance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott recently wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.