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Mix of veterans, youth highlight U.S. Olympic team

by Corey Masisak

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Four years ago the United States team at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics was young and inexperienced at the highest international level.

The team named Wednesday by USA Hockey for the 2014 Sochi Olympics will not carry the same stigma heading into the tournament next month. Thirteen members of the silver-medal winning squad from Vancouver was named to the 25-man roster, which was announced on the Michigan Stadium ice surface after the Bridgestone 2014 NHL Winter Classic.

"This is second time I've done this because I did this with Brian Burke [as general manager] in 2010 and all I can say is we did not have these decisions, anywhere close to these decisions to make this year [four years ago]," United States general manager David Poile said after the Winter Classic. "If I can say this the right way, this is the first time we're having to make similar decisions that Canada has made for years. We're leaving off top, top, top players."

Among the 13 returnees are all of the guys who were named as part of the "leadership group" by USA Hockey at the summer orientation camp; forwards David Backes, Dustin, Ryan Callahan and Zach Parise and defensman Ryan Suter. Also back is 2010 tournament MVP, goaltender Ryan Miller.

The strength up front for the American team appears to be on the wings. Parise, Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel are three of the top wings in the NHL, while Dustin Brown, Callahan, James van Riemsdyk, Max Pacioretty and Blake Wheeler offer a lot of skill, size and speed and T.J. Oshie is one of the best playmakers at the position.

Backes leads a group of five centers, and where they fit on the depth chart will be interesting to monitor. Paul Stastny, Ryan Kesler and Joe Pavelski were all in Vancouver, with Derek Stepan as the lone newcomer of the bunch.

Poile emphasized chemistry among players like van Riemsdyk and Kessel, Oshie and Backes and Stepan and Callahan, skating ability for players like Wheeler, Pacioretty and van Riemsdyk and mentioned Oshie's shootout prowess as a potential weapon in the short tournament.

"There's a lot of guys that can skate well, and I think that is huge," van Riemsdyk said. "Going over on the bigger ice, there is 15 extra feet to work with. We have a lot of guys with international experience and played on the bigger surface, whether it is stuff like that or guys playing in college on the bigger sheets. When you have that familiarity to it, it definitely makes it easier to go over there and adjust to it."

Suter will be the No. 1 defenseman for the Americans, and is a strong candidate to be among the tournament leaders in time on ice. The defense corps is the biggest area of turnover on the club, with only Suter and Brooks Orpik returning.

Orpik and Paul Martin have been defense partners both at even strength and on the penalty kill for the Pittsburgh Penguins. American coach Dan Bylsma has coached both players in Pittsburgh since 2009..

The rest of the defense corps is a collection of some of the best young talents in the League at the position. All five, John Carlson, Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk, are 24 years old or younger.

No player on this team likely came as far in the eyes of the management team as Fowler, who had struggled for much of the past two seasons before playing well at the end of 2012-13 season and becoming a breakout star for the Anaheim Ducks this year.

"Anybody who has seen [Fowler] play this year, especially in the last six weeks, he may be one of the best defensemen in the League right now on a top team," Poile said. "His skating ability, his whole vision of his game, he's taking his game up to a much, much higher level."

While the men's team won silver at the 2010 Olympics, the Under-20 squad won gold at the IIHF 2010 World Junior Chamionship in Saskatchewan. Carlson scored the golden goal in overtime against the host Canadians, and Stepan was the leading scorer in that tournament with 14 points. Fowler was also on that team.

Miller and 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick have long been considered favorites for places on this team in net, and Jimmy Howard was named to the team just minutes after backstopping his Detroit Red Wings in the NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.

The top forwards not on the 25-man roster are Bobby Ryan, Brandon Dubinsky, Kyle Okposo and Jason Pominville. Ryan and Pominville are third and fourth in goals among American players this season with 18 and 17, while Okposo is second in points with 40. Dubinsky and Nick Bonino are the top centers not to make the team.

Ryan, Okposo and Pominville are not considered to have elite skating ability, which clearly looks like a component the management team valued when picking the wings and could be a factor on the larger international ice surface. Those three are also do not kill penalties for their NHL clubs.

A four-time 30-goal scorer on pace for a fifth, Ryan is the most accomplished player in the prime of his career left off the squad.

"The amount of time we spent on Bobby Ryan was a huge amount," Poile said. "Bobby is a fabulous player. I love him. I'd love him for my own team. We have to make decisions. We chose some new guys."

The evaluation team, which is led by general manager David Poile and his advisory board Burke, Stan Bowman, Ray Shero, Dean Lombardi, Paul Holmgren and Dale Tallon, made it clear early in the process that a player's previous track record and where he would fit on the roster would have a large impact on the decisions.

Poile re-emphasized that Wednesday, mentioning discussions among the management team and coaching staff about where players would be expected to play in all situations and how ice time would be divided.

Dustin Byfuglien and Keith Yandle are first and third among American-born defensemen, but neither is on the 25-man roster. Erik Johnson and Jack Johnson were both on the 2010 team, but are not returning.

Miller and Quick, despite his injury, were near-consensus picks in goal. There were a lot of candidates for the final spot. Cory Schneider and Ben Bishop have better statistics than Howard this season, but Poile said Howard's play during Detroit's surprising run to within one win of the conference finals in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs helped his case.

"I didn't know to be honest," Howard said. "November wasn't very kind to me and then going down with a knee injury in early December and not playing and just working my tail off with myself and my trainers. They did a tremendous job of getting me back. Now it is just about going out there and getting into a rhythm.

"[Miller] has a Vezina and [Quick] has a Conn Smythe and a Stanley Cup, not to mention Ryan was the MVP in 2010. The competition is fierce, but I think that is a good thing. We will be able to push each other."

# Forwards Club Height Weight DOB Birthplace
42 D. Backes STL 6'3" 221 5/1/1984 Minneapolis, MN
23 D. Brown LAK 6'0" 212 11/4/1984 Ithaca, NY
24 R. Callahan NYR 5'11" 180 3/21/1985 Rochester, NY
88 P. Kane CHI 5'11" 181 1/19/1988 Buffalo, NY
17 R. Kesler VAN 6'2" 202 8/31/1984 Livonia, MI
81 P. Kessel TOR 6'0" 202 10/2/1987 Madison, WI
74 T.J. OshiE STL 5'11" 189 12/23/1986 Warroad, MN
61 M. Pacioretty MTL 6'2" 219 11/20/1988 New Canaan, CT
9 Z. Parise MIN 5'11" 190 7/28/1984 Minneapolis, MN
8 J. Pavelski SJS 5'11" 190 7/11/1984 Plover, WI
26 P. Stastny COL 6'0" 205 12/27/1985 St. Louis, MO
21 D. Stepan NYR 6'0" 196 6/18/1990 Hastings, MN
21 J. van Riemsdyk TOR 6'3" 200 5/4/1989 Middletown, NJ
26 B. Wheeler WPG 6'5" 205 8/31/1986 Robbinsdale, MN
# Defense Club Height Weight DOB Birthplace
74 J. Carlson WSH 6'3" 212 1/10/1990 Colonia, NJ
27 J. Faulk CAR 6'0" 215 3/20/1992 South St. Paul, MN
4 C. Fowler ANA 6'1" 196 3/5/1991 Farmington Hills, MI
7 P. Martin PIT 6'1" 200 3/5/1981 Elk River, MN
27 R. McDonagh NYR 6'1" 213 6/13/1989 St. Paul, MN
44 B. Orpik PIT 6'2" 219 9/26/1980 Amherst, NY
22 K. Shattenkirk STL 5'11" 207 1/29/1989 Greenwich, CT
20 R. Suter MIN 6'1" 198 1/21/1985 Madison, WI
# Goalies Club Height Weight DOB Birthplace
35 J. Howard DET 6'0" 218 3/26/1984 Syracuse, NY
30 R. Miller BUF 6'2" 175 7/17/1980 East Lansing, MI
32 J. Quick LAK 6'1" 218 1/21/1986 Milford, CT
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