Okay guys...it's starting to get real.
First off: I can't get enough of the photo above. It's a lot of America.
As I type this, it's approaching 11 p.m. in Sochi, Russia, where several of the 2014 men's Olympic hockey teams have wrapped up their first practices. Russia was first to go this morning and there was plenty of buzz about Alex Ovechkin practicing on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Alex Semin, and also goaltending questions; is it going to be Sergei Bobrovsky or Semyon Varlamov leading off for the Russians?
No one's giving it away, so we have to wait a couple more days.
Also on the ice today was Team USA, which took a team photo on the ice before beginning its first practice under head coach Dan Bylsma (Pittsburgh Penguins), assistant coaches Todd Richards (Blue Jackets), Tony Granato (Penguins) and Peter Laviolette.
While many consider Canada and Russia to be the favorites for gold at these Olympics, the United States proved in 2010 that it's never wise to sleep on the Americans. It's going to be a tall task to reach the podium in 2014, but the American core is four years older and many of the players have Olympic experience to lean on.
Now, for the juicy details. NHL.com's crew is on site in Sochi and took in Team USA's first practice; here's their report on the lines and pairs today...
Dustin Brown - Ryan Kesler - Patrick Kane
Zach Parise - David Backes - TJ Oshie
James van Riemsdyk - Joe Pavelski - Phil Kessel
Max Pacioretty - Paul Stastny - Ryan Callahan
Ryan McDonagh - John Carlson
Cam Fowler - Ryan Suter
Kevin Shattenkirk - Paul Martin
Brooks Orpik - Justin Faulk
An interesting and deep group, from this vantage point. Bylsma is employing a similar strategy to these lines as he uses with the Penguins; there's scoring on each unit and the United States has a strong presence at center ice.