The World Cup of Hockey starts on Saturday, Sept. 17. While pre-tournament games have begun, the xHockeyProducts team is excited for the tournament to begin. That’s why we are breaking down every team and providing the chances every roster has to win it all.
The inaugural champions of the World Cup, Team USA will be slotted with Team Canada, Team Czech Republic and Team Europe in Group A of the tournament.
Team USA won silver medals in both the 2002 and 2010 Winter Games, but lost to Finland in the Bronze Medal Game in 2014. They took home bronze medals in the 2013 and 2015 World Championships, and the last gold medal for Team USA men’s hockey of any kind came in the 2013 World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia.
The U.S. team lost to Finland, 2-1, in the semifinal round of the 2006 World Cup.
|Group A||Group B|
|Team Canada||Team Finland|
|Team Czech Republic||Team North America|
|Team Europe||Team Russia|
|Team USA||Team Sweden|
|Justin Abdelkader – DET||David Backes – BOS||Dustin Byfuglien – WPG||Ben Bishop – TBL|
|Brandon Dubinsky – CBJ||Patrick Kane CHI||John Carlson – WSH||Jonathan Quick – LAK|
|Ryan Kesler – ANA||T.J. Oshie – WSH||Erik Johnson – COL||Cory Schneider – NJD|
|Max Pacioretty – MTL||Kyle Palmieri – NJD||Jack Johnson – CBJ|
|Zach Parise – MIN||Joe Pavelski – SJS||Ryan McDonagh – NYR|
|Derek Stepan – NYR||James van Riemsdyk – TOR||Matt Niskanen – WSH|
|Blake Wheeler – WPG||Ryan Suter – MIN|
The U.S. team will rely heavily on their defense and goaltending to push them to the top of Group A. These two positions are chalked full of talent for the Americans; so much so that notable talent was left off the roster, including Justin Faulk (Carolina), Cam Fowler (Anaheim) and Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis).
Dustin Byfuglien will be a menacing figure on the USA blue line, as he is difficult to move around. But the big defenseman has quite the offensive skill set, allowing him to move the puck to the forwards quickly.
Ryan Suter‘s name is always atop the list of the league’s best defensive defensemen, which will allow players like John Carlson and Erik Johnson to join the rush, depending on which skater he is paired with.
Although Team USA may not have the best goalie in the tournament, they may have the best trio of netminders. Indications so far suggest that Jonathan Quick will be the team’s starter, but head coach John Tortorella can’t go wrong with replacing him should it be deemed necessary. Both Ben Bishop and Cory Schneider are elite NHL goaltenders and can handle any work thrown their way.
The problem that Team USA faces is that many of its best players are under the age of 23. This means that Team North America has the rights to players such as Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews and Jacob Trouba.
The Americans are still left with supreme talent, as Patrick Kane, Zach Parise and Joe Pavelski will still be suiting up for their native country. However, is it enough?
Kane, the 2015-16 Hart and Art Ross Trophy recipient, will be as dangerous as any other top player for their team, but the secondary scoring could be an issue.
In past tournaments, skilled forwards have been shut down dramatically. Blake Wheeler, a 78-point scorer last season in the NHL, and Max Pacioretty, who tallied the second most game-winning goals (10) in 2014-15, scored a combined two assists in the 2014 Winter Games.
Team USA will have to find balanced scoring if they want to advance to the semifinal round. The defense and goaltending are solid enough to allow one or two goals per contest; it will be up to the offense to slip a few more pucks past opposing netminders.
Player to Watch
Kane is the obvious choice to watch for pure offensive talent, but if the USA heads to a shootout, there’s only one player’s name you’ll need to know.
T.J. Oshie has become the face of the shootout in recent years. The left winger has a bag of tricks up his sleeve that, when one-on-one with the goaltender, rivals any player in the world.
Of course, we all remember this moment from Sochi:
If the 29-year-old finds time and space during regulation, he can be just as deadly.
What It Will Take to Win
Similar to the Czech Republic, the U.S. roster will have to rely on a strong forechecking game, as well as traffic in front of the opposing goaltender, in order to win games. They have pure talent that can score goals, but it doesn’t match the level of Canada, North America or even Sweden.
Expect to see a defensive style from Team USA, as containing the opposing powerhouse forwards in the tournament will be key. If the U.S. can keep players along the perimeter of the offensive zone, clogging the middle areas will force shooters to shoot from off angles, instead of finding a tic-tac-toe goal across the crease. With some of the best lane-blocking defensemen in the game, including Suter, Jack Johnson and Ryan McDonagh, Team USA will make their foes fight for their scoring chances.
Late-game heroics have been a staple in U.S. hockey, so it will likely need to continue into the 2016 World Cup. In Game 3 of the 1996 World Cup Final, it was an amazing four goals in under four minutes remaining in play to defeat Canada, 5-2. In the 2010 Winter Games, it was Parise scoring with 25 seconds remaining to tie the Gold Medal Game at two goals apiece (Sidney Crosby would famously win the game for Canada in overtime). And, of course, in 2014, it was Oshie’s shootout brilliance against Russia that most remember.
If Team USA can pull off some more inspirational heroics in the waning seconds of contests, they have the potential to finish as a top-three team.
Saturday, Sept. 17
Team USA vs. Team Europe, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports
Tuesday, Sept. 20
Team Canada vs. Team USA, 8 p.m., ESPN, SN, TVA Sports
Thursday, Sept. 22
Team USA vs. Team Czech Republic, 8 p.m., ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports
Feature photo courtesy mtgould89 | Flickr
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