The 2014 Winter Olympics are set to begin in less than six weeks in Sochi, Russia, and the United States will no doubt be a favorite to top the leaderboard in total medals.
But on Thursday, the concern was with the hockey team and how it might fare against stiff international competition. Team USA officials announced the 25-man roster that will represent the country.
Here are the players selected to represent Team USA:
Forwards (14): David Backes, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan, Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel, T.J. Oshie, Max Pacioretty, Zach Parise, Joe Pavelski, Paul Stastny, Derek Stepan, James van Riemsdyk, Blake Wheeler
Defensemen (8): John Carlson, Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, Paul Martin, Ryan McDonagh, Brooks Orpik, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Suter
Goalies (3): Jimmy Howard, Ryan Miller, Jonathan Quick
Thirteen of the 25 players selected took part in the 2010 Olympics. This time around, it’s without question a roster that stresses both speed and defense, and it starts with the goaltenders.
Miller was simply outstanding for Team USA in Vancouver in 2010. He posted a 1.35 goals-against average in the team’s first five games before losing the gold medal game to Team Canada. Miller kept Team USA in the game until Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal clinched it for the Canadians.
Now, Miller will likely get the starting nod again. While his Buffalo Sabres have struggled mightily, Miller has posted a solid 2.69 GAA with a .927 save percentage. Quick hasn’t played since Nov. 7 and is working his way back from a strained groin.
For Miller, it’s no doubt a chance for redemption, falling one goal short of achieving gold in Vancouver four years ago.
"We won silver and people treated us in a very special way," Miller said. "Winning a gold, I don't know how much different it might be. United States is always expected to win. I think people would appreciate it and be excited, and it would definitely be a highlight for me."
Miller is on a roll right now, posting a 5-1-1 record in his last seven games with a 1.65 GAA. His game is clearly rounding into form at an opportune time.
Supporting Miller is a solid defensive corps. Team USA’s top pairing is expected to be Suter and Carlson. Suter has logged more minutes than any defenseman in the NHL this season and is largely considered one of the better two-way backliners in the league. Carlson is a big bruising defender who’s surprisingly quick on skates and plays with natural instincts.
McDonagh and Shattenkirk are both offensively gifted. McDonagh could well be one of the fastest players on the roster, and Shattenkirk has already logged 28 points for the St. Louis Blues.
Front line pairings feature speed as well. Parise, Kesler and Kane figure to make up the top line, with Kane being one of the most dynamic scorers on the team. Parise possesses soft hands with the ability to strike at a moment’s notice, but can also act as a playmaker from the left side.
The second line will feature Pavelski, who is one of the better two-way centers in the NHL. He’ll be flanked on the right side by Kessel, who simply has a natural ability to score at will. Van Riemsdyk gives the second line an element of size along with a nifty set of offensive tools.
The checking line might just be the best unit of any team in the Olympics. Backes is considered to be one of the game’s best defensive forwards, Brown isn’t afraid to mix it up with anyone and is skilled at shadowing opposing forwards, and Callahan is a rough-and-tumble winger who also possesses a deft scoring touch.
Team USA will open against Slovakia on Feb. 13.