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Lending a Helping Hand to Team USA

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

by Phil Coffey - Feature

The other day, this space lent a helping hand to Wayne Gretzky and Team Canada officials by making the remaining selections for the 2002 Winter Olympics. (Really guys, no reason to thank me).

Now we can’t show any favoritism here in North America, so today, we take pen in hand (no pencil, we’re that sure) and give Team USA GM Craig Patrick, Assistant GM Larry Pleau and head coach Herb Brooks the weekend off.

After all, they already have done most of the heavy lifting, especially at center where Colorado’s Chris Drury, Dallas’ Mike Modano, Philadelphia’s Jeremy Roenick and St. Louis’ Doug Weight already have been named to the team. (Good job fellas, couldn’t have done it better myself!)

The right wing also has been taken care of quite nicely with Chicago’s Tony Amonte, Boston’s Bill Guerin, Detroit’s Brett Hull and the Blues’ Scott Young.

On the left side, the Flyers’ John LeClair and the Blues’ Keith Tkachuk already have spots wrapped up.

The American defense is manned by the Rangers’ Brian Leetch, the Devils’ Brian Rafalski, the Red Wings’ Chris Chelios and the Sharks’ Gary Suter.

And in goal, Nashville’s Mike Dunham already has gotten the nod.

That’s 15 players already named to a 23-man roster, so the rest of this should be a piece of cake, right?

We’ll see, rabbit, we’ll see.

Forwards -- Realistically, only three spots remain here and our list has four names on it. Someone isn’t going to be happy.

We’re going to disappoint the Canadians and not let them have Mike York so he can skate with Eric Lindros and Theo Fleury. Instead, the underrated York, who won’t be underrated much longer, is going to play for Team USA.

You can’t overlook what the Islanders’ Mark Parrish has done this season either. With 17 goals in 28 games, he already has matched his total from 70 games last season. The man has a nose for the net and a spot on the team.

With 11 goals and 20 assists in 28 games, the Calgary Flames’ Craig Conroy is poised for a career year. But because there are so many offensively skilled players among the Team USA forwards, Conroy will reluctantly be left off the roster in favor of the Bruins’ Brian Rolston, a former U.S. Olympian from his college days. The thinking here is Rolston’s great skating and mobility, plus 12 goals and 10 assists for the Bruins, will be a terrific asset for Team USA.

Defense -- The American defense also has three slots to fill, and there are plenty of candidates. Mathieu Schneider has competed for Team USA in the past, but he is currently sidelined by injury. This is a dilemma with the Dec. 22 roster deadline rushing at us. Schneider is recovering from a hernia injury, but the guess here is he’ll be OK by February. He’s in.

Two defense spots left. The New York Rangers’ Bryan Berard has made a remarkable recovery and comeback from a serious eye injury, but the feeling is he needs some more time to get his game back at the Olympic level.

The Stars’ Derian Hatcher is a bruiser in the Scott Stevens mold. This space selected Stevens for the final Team Canada roster, so we will do the same here. Hatcher will be especially handy to have around when those Canadian forwards come a calling.

With the last selection on defense we are opting for Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Eric Weinrich, a former U.S. Olympian himself. Weinrich has put together a solid NHL career and was a coveted free agent this past summer. He is familiar with the big ice surface and knows how to move the puck quickly and efficiently.

Anyone who remembers what Richter accomplished with Team USA during the 1996 World Cup of Hockey knows he can take you a long, long way in a tournament.

Goaltending -- Dunham was the obvious first choice for the Team USA roster as questions dogged the Rangers’ Mike Richter who was coming off major knee surgery. Richter, however, has bounced back in a huge way and is one of those players chiefly responsible for the Rangers being one of the surprise stories of the NHL this season. And anyone who remembers what Richter accomplished with Team USA during the 1996 World Cup of Hockey knows he can take you a long, long way in a tournament.

The third goalie for the Team USA roster is here on merit for his play this season. Tom Barrasso wasn’t even in the NHL last season as he tended to family needs. But he joined the Carolina Hurricanes this season and has been flat-out terrific. The U.S. could do a lot worse than having Barrasso on the roster.

Dunham got off to a sub-par start to the season with Nashville, but has been coming on of late. Remember, like Richter, he is a former U.S. Olympian so he won’t be phased by the wide ice and the consequent adjustment goalies must make in their angle play.

Can this group win a medal at Salt Lake City? Most definitely, but it certainly is going to be a tough road with a very strong Canadian team, the defending champ Czech Republic is stronger, Russia will be tough, and so will the Swedes and Finns.

But there is something to be said for home-ice advantage. The last two times the Winter Olympics have been played in the United States – 1960 in Squaw Valley and 1980 in Lake Placid – we all know who took home the gold medal.

Stranger things have happened.

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