Don Waddell, the General Manager of the U.S. team, who is the GM of the Atlanta Thrashers, has been scouting players for months, along with assistant GMs Paul Holmgren of the Philadelphia Flyers, and USA Hockey executive Jim Johansson.
The team will be coached by Peter Laviolette, head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes.
And while the roster is almost set, some decisions remain to be made.
“It’s not a question of putting together a team of stars, but of getting the right mix,” says Waddell. “You want the right fit and chemistry for a team to win a tournament.”
Waddell can name 20 skaters and three goaltenders, and it’s expected he will go with seven defensemen and 13 forwards in an effort to win the gold medal for the first time since 1980. The deadline for naming the rosters is Dec. 22, and players who are injured after this date can be replaced until the final rosters are submitted 24 hours before the start of the Olympic tournament in Turin, Italy.
The United States lost to Canada in the gold medal final of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. The Americans also lost to Finland in the semifinals of the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
Because of that, there has been plenty of speculation in the media that Waddell will go with younger players, signaling a changing of the guard in American hockey.
While it remains to be seen which way he will go, it’s almost certain there will be new faces wearing the United States jersey in Italy.
Here’s a look at who might be in the mix for the U.S. Olympic team:
| The future of United States goaltending is now, and Rick DiPietro will likely be "The Man" in Italy for the U.S. |
Mike Richter has retired, and it appears that Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders is the heir apparent as the No. 1 netminder. He has been the most consistent American goalie in the NHL this season.
Look for Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres to get the job as back-up. Miller won the starters’ job at the Sabres’ training camp and had a 2.77 goals-against average along with a .910 save percentage in 10 games before he broke his right thumb and missed almost six weeks. He’s back, and has plenty of time to get his game back together.
The job as the No. 3 goalie may not seem important in a short-term competition like the Olympics, but it is a key decision. Waddell will not just pick the third goalie because he is a good guy. The decision will be made on the basis of if the first guy goes down and the second guy goes down, the third guy can win a gold medal.
You have to think that Philadelphia’s Robert Esche and Tampa Bay’s John Grahame are the top candidates.
| Jordan Leopold (middle) and Brian Gionta (leaping) could be two new Olympians wearing the Red, White and Blue this February. |
Look for Waddell to go with a combination of seasoned veterans, accented with a young, offensive-minded blueline. The Americans will need puck-carrying defensemen who can get the piece of vulcanized rubber up ice quickly, and who can take advantage of the wider international ice surface.
You have to think that Derian Hatcher of the Philadelphia Flyers, Mathieu Schneider of the Detroit Red Wings, Brian Leetch of the Boston Bruins, Jordan Leopold of the Calgary Flames and Brian Rafalski of the New Jersey Devils are all locks to be named. Hatcher, Schneider and Leetch are veterans who know how to react under pressure.
Strong candidates for the remaining two jobs include Paul Mara of the Phoenix Coyotes, John-Michael Liles of the Colorado Avalanche, Hal Gill of the Boston Bruins, Paul Martin of the New Jersey Devils and Aaron Miller of the Los Angeles Kings.
One player worthy of note is Andy Roach of the St. Louis Blues. He scored a couple of brilliant shootout goals for the United States at the 2004 World Championships and might get the nod for his scoring touch in shootouts.
The United States has a strong stable of young defensemen playing in the NHL and Waddell will have to decide whether he wants to expose any of them to the pressures of the Olympic competition. The next wave of players includes Ryan Suter of Nashville, Tim Gleason of Los Angeles and David Tanabe of Phoenix.
| Brian Rolston was a member of the Silver Medal winning U.S. team in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. |
You’ll likely hear a lot about how the best players don’t always make the best team when the critics give their reviews on Waddell’s picks up front.
You’d have to think that the shoo-ins include Mike Modano and Bill Guerin of the Dallas Stars, Eric Cole of the Carolina Hurricanes, Jason Blake of the New York Islanders, Mike Knuble of the Philadelphia Flyers, Doug Weight of the St. Louis Blues and Brian Rolston of the Minnesota Wild.
If Waddell wants to expose some young players to the Olympics, he’ll likely consider New Jersey’s Brian Gionta and Zach Parise, along with Pittsburgh’s Ryan Malone.
Others being considered are Craig Conroy of Los Angeles, Scott Gomez of New Jersey, Chris Drury of Buffalo, Jeff Halpern of Washington, Tony Amonte of Calgary, Jamie Langenbrunner of New Jersey, and Keith Tkachuk of the Blues.
Waddell has been lucky in the sense that he has not had the same public pressure Wayne Gretzky has had in naming his roster. Waddell has been able to do his job, and basically stay under everyone’s radar screen. Gretzky, by comparison, is the general manger of Team Canada and he has 25 million GMs sitting at home on their couch second-guessing his selections. Canada will name its team on Dec. 21 in Vancouver.
The International Ice Hockey Federation runs the Olympic tournament and the world governing body has said it likes the way the game is played in the NHL, and the NHL’s standards on obstruction will be used in Turin.
That said, it’s expected Waddell will name a couple of role players to his Olympic roster.
Teams will get one practice session in Turin before the competition starts on Feb. 15 when the United States plays Latvia.