Any hockey player will tell you one of the greatest sources of pride is to don the sweater of their native country. The most recent example is the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C.
, one of the most memorable hockey tournaments of this generation.
Fans from across the world – some diehard hockey fans, others tuning in for the first time – could not stop watching the captivating competitive spirit of professionals (and some amateurs) gathered from all around the globe. The culmination of the Olympic tournament was the gold medal matchup between the United States and Canada - a thrilling hockey game no fan is soon to forget.
This year’s IIHF World Hockey Championship
certainly has some hype. It is the first major international competition before the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia
, and many players are trying to get their name on the radar.
TEAM USA (OFFICIAL WEBSITE)
The United States squad (led by head coach Scott Gordon) features an interesting mix with a few veterans like Jim Slater and Paul Stastny, and an abundance of youth at both forward and defense. Brian Burke, GM of Team USA in 2010, began the youth movement when he left out some notable USA mainstays in favor of up-and-comers.
On May 5, Team USA and Canada will face off in a preliminary round game which will be the second of the tournament for each side. How do they match up, and how will the Blue Jackets players on each team fit in?
As of April 30, here is the roster for Team USA:
FORWARDS: Justin Abdelkader, Cam Atkinson, J.T. Brown, Joey Crabb, Patrick Dwyer, Ryan Lasch, Kyle Okposo, Max Pacioretty, Bobby Ryan, Jim Slater, Paul Stastny, Kyle Palmieri, Nate Thompson
DEFENSE: Jack Johnson, Cam Fowler, Chris Butler, Justin Faulk, Alex Goligoski, Jeff Petry, Justin Braun
GOALTENDERS: Jimmy Howard, Richard Bachman, John Curry
At first glance, this is a speedy and aggressive team put together by USA Hockey’s assistant executive direction Jim Johansson. The top-six forwards are creative, led by Stastny, Ryan and Okposo – and there are youngsters who are comfortable around the net and can score goals (Atkinson, Brown, Pacioretty). Atkinson, who finished the NHL regular season with a flurry, appears to be a nice fit on a line with a playmaking center like Stastny.
Though there are no Zach Parises or Phil Kessels on this edition of Team USA, its greatest strength should be the bottom-six forwards and defensemen. Abdelkader is an emerging, energetic player in the Central Division and Red Wings coach Mike Babcock can use him in a variety of roles. Joey Crabb does the same for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and is an excellent penalty killer for Randy Carlyle. Slater is an anchor for the Winnipeg Jets, and the Michigan State product showed his offensive side a bit this year, scoring a career-high 13 goals in 78 games.
The defense is built on skill and puck movement, and Jack Johnson is going to be a huge piece on the blue line for the Americans. He’s a motivated player for this World Championship: 2012 is his fifth trip to the tournament and he has yet to be part of a medal-winning USA team. He’s joined on the back end by Fowler and rookie sensation Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes, two players who are excellent power-play quarterbacks. Butler is the only true “stay at home” defender of the bunch, but Johnson’s +5 rating in 24 games with Columbus was tops on the club.
Howard will be the go-to netminder for Team USA and he’s coming off an outstanding year in Detroit. He went 35-17-4 with six shutouts and a career-low 2.13 goals-against average.
OUTLOOK: This looks to be the year Johnson and Team USA can secure a medal at the World Championship. The group of defensemen is top-notch and they’re sure to get quality goaltending from Howard.
TEAM CANADA (OFFICIAL WEBSITE)
Can you believe the Canadians finished fifth at last year’s World Championship? It seems so long ago, but that team led by Ken Hitchcock and Scott Arniel was guilty of massive underachievement. This year’s team is loaded once again and has to be considered the odds-on favorite to win the gold medal.
From top to bottom, Team Canada has few weaknesses and should be fully equipped to score goals and keep them out of their own net. Much like the American team, the group of Canadians traveling to the World Championships is young and dynamic. The elder statesmen of Team Canada, Patrick Sharp and Alexandre Burrows, are 31 years old and in the prime of their careers.
Where Sharp and Burrows boast Stanley Cup experience, there is an element of fresh blood (at least on the international stage) with Ryan O’Reilly and Teddy Purcell – two players coming off breakout offensive campaigns with their NHL teams.
Here is the roster for Team Canada:
FORWARDS: Evander Kane, Corey Perry, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Getzlaf, Andrew Ladd, John Tavares, Jamie Benn, Teddy Purcell, Ryan O’Reilly, Alexandre Burrows, Jeff Skinner, Patrick Sharp, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
DEFENSE: Marc Methot, Jay Bouwmeester, Luke Schenn, Duncan Keith, Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, P.K. Subban, Dion Phaneuf
GOALTENDERS: Cam Ward, Devan Dubnyk, Matt Hackett
Team Canada head coach Brent Sutter likes offense, and he will have weapons at his disposal for this tournament. There’s a good chance Perry and Getzlaf will play together as they did in the Olympics, and on the surface, a left-handed shooter would be a nice fit on the left wing (Benn). That’s three power forwards together who can fire the puck and work a cycle like few others in the league.
O’Reilly broke into the NHL as an 18-year-old that played against the opposition’s top players, and he could form a solid checking trio with Burrows and Sharp – two players that are responsible defensively and have finishing skill. How about an all-kid line with Skinner, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins? It would be awesome to watch, and a nightmare for the defense to track them down. Purcell, who was terrific all year for the Lightning and coach Guy Boucher (also an assistant for Canada at the Worlds), is an ideal pairing with a playmaker like Tavares who is accustomed to drawing an extra defender.
Though a February jaw injury cut his Blue Jackets season short, Methot is fired up to play for Team Canada and figures to play a larger role than he did a year ago. Sutter could do much worse than a Methot-Phaneuf defense pair - a tandem that can skate well and establish a physical presence on the blue line. Vlasic, an ice-in-the-veins defenseman for the Sharks, could play with a gunslinger like Subban who prefers to join the rush and take chances in the offensive zone.
Ward is the undisputed No. 1 goaltender for Canada and he will carry the mail. One of the most consistent netminders in the NHL, Ward posted 30 wins for the fifth time in the last six seasons in 2011-12 and gave the Hurricanes a chance to win every night. Carolina finished the year in fine fashion, and new head coach Kirk Muller will join the Canadian coaching staff as an assistant for the Worlds.
OUTLOOK: Team Canada is the team to beat, and their sternest competition could come from the Americans or Russia, who are also bringing a talented team to the tournament. However, it’s too early to count out the hosts, Sweden and Finland.
NOTE: Other Blue Jackets and prospects playing in the World Championship include: Nikita Nikitin (Russia) and Thomas Larkin (Italy).
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