Miracle on Ice

Meet Your US Olympic Hockey Team

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Team USA hopes to join the 1980 squad in reaching the top of the medal stand.

33 years ago in the small village of Lake Placid, N,Y the United States hockey team pulled off one of the greatest upsets in amateur hockey history when they downed the vaunted, powerful Russian team. Announcer Al Michaels shouted “Do you believe in miracles?” as the clock wound down on  Team USA’s 4-3 victory that set them up to win the gold medal. They did just that with a come from behind 4-2 win over Finland two days later. That was the last time the United States won the men’s hockey gold medal. They came close in 2010 when they lost a heart breaker in overtime to Canada 3-2 in the gold medal game, but the squad has won the gold just twice since 1960. A determined, interesting mix of players traveled to Sochi, Russia to compete against top international competition comprised mostly of NHL players.

The Goaltenders

Four years ago  Ryan Miller practically stole the Gold Medal from Canada all by himself. He produced a 1.35 Goals Against Average (second only to Henrik Lundqvist of Sweden’s 1.34) and stopped a tournament best 94.5% of the pucks directed towards him. Pittsburgh Penguins and US head coach Dan Bylsma and his staff have a big decision to make regarding who gets the bulk of the playing time, Miller or LA Kings goaltender and 2012 Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

The 28-year old netminder got off to a slow start and then missed a month and a half with a groin injury. Upon his return, Quick held opponents to 1.85 goals per game through 13 January contests. (His 2.68 GAA in three February is skewed by the five goals he allowed in one contest vs. the Blackhawks.) Miller has had the unenviable task of trying to keep a terrible Buffalo Sabres team – 14 wins in 51 games – from completely imploding. Miller has also been the subject of trade rumors as the Sabres look to rebuild for the future.

Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings returned to action on Jan. 28 after a week out with a hip flexor injury. He backed up Jonas Gustavsson against the Philadelphia Flyers, but started three games thereafter and combined on a shutout with Gustavsson after the latter had to leave the game after one period. Howard is number three on the depth chart and may see little or no playing time at all.

Despite the play of Miller four years ago, the gut feeling here is that Quick will be the #1 man between the pipes. He’s already been selected by Bylsma to start the first game of the tournament Thursday morning.

The Forwards

Number 88 of the Chicago Blackhawks has been tearing up opponents in the NHL , so it’s good timing for Patrick Kane to be suiting up for Team USA. Kane, who missed the Blackhawks last game prior to the break due to the death of his grandfather, has wracked up 63 points in 59 games. After a lackluster January, Kane found out that his grandfather died on Feb. 3 and took his out grief on the LA Kings with two goals and an assist. He’s the key forward to Team USA’s success.

The leading US scoring entering Olympic play was the Maple Leafs’ Phil Kessel. The 26-year old got off to terrible start in last season’s strike shortened campaign, but burst out of the gate this season with 10 goals and 9 assists in the first 20 games.  His 65 points (31 goals, 34 assists) in 60 games is the fourth best overall total in the league. Team USA will also be looking to Toronto Maple Leaf winger James van Riemsdyk to add some scoring punch as well. The New Jersey Native is having a career year with 24 goals and 47 points in 58 games.

Team captain Zach Parise and right wing Ryan Callahan will bring their hard nosed NHL play to the larger international rink. Parise led the US with four goals in the 2010 games and sent the gold medal game with Canada to overtime with a late game tying goal. (Click here to check out Alli Baker’s profile of the US captain and Minnesota Wild star.) Callahan’s penalty killing ability and fiery play will be a huge asset to the US squad.

The Defensemen

Among those manning the blue line for the Americans will be assistant captain Ryan Suter, who played on the silver medal winning team in Vancouver four years ago. The Minnesota native is sixth in points among US born defensemen and 14th overall with 33 points. More than his point scoring ability, Bylsma will be counting on Suter for his leadership on the ice and in the locker room.

At 29, Suter is only the third oldest blue liner on the team. Pittsburgh Penguin teammates Paul Martin (32) and Brooks Orpik (33) lend more experience to Bylsma’s roster, even though this is Martin’s first Olympic experience.

Youngsters Ryan McDonaugh (NYR), John Carlson (WASH), and Cam Fowler (ANA) have combined for 35 power play points this season and are the key point men when Team USA has the man advantage.

Outlook

It won’t take a miracle on ice to capture the gold medal, but it will be a monumental task with the likes of powerhouse teams from Canada, Sweden, and Russia.  It’s the reason Vegas odds-makers have the US as the fourth favorite behind the aforementioned three teams.

Team USA’s goal for the gold gets underway Thursday morning, 7:30 EDT time against Slovakia. The team will be led by captain Zdeno Chara and assistants Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus. Coach Vladimir Vujtek will choose between Montreal’s Peter Budaj and St. Louis’ Jaroslav Halak to be the main man between the pipes. (The team also has KHL goalie Jan Laco.)

Drop the puck.

Drew Sarver is the publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

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Parise Hopes to Make US Fans Go Wild

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by Alli Baker

When people think of the stars of the National Hockey League, names like Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane come to mind. Nobody ever says “Zach Parise is one of the greatest players in the league”. That’s because Parise is one of the most underrated players in the NHL. Parise may not be a 40-goal scorer or have ridiculously impressive numbers like some of the other guys, but he brings much more to the table than just the ability to score. Parise is a highly intelligent player with the ability to protect the puck and get it in and to the net, regardless of the circumstances. Team USA knows just how much of an impact a player like Parise can have. For the past two years with Minnesota Wild, Parise has demonstrated that he can be a game-changer, and he looks to do the same at this year’s Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Parise, the recently selected captain of Team USA has shown in the past that he’s very capable of performing on the international level. At the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Parise led Team USA with four goals, including a memorable goal scored with 24 seconds left in regulation that sent the gold medal game into overtime with Team Canada. With international exposure, fans finally realized what an outstanding he player he was. “He’s one of the best forwards in the league … He’s one of the best players in the NHL,” teammate and fellow Team USA member Ryan Suter said about Parise.2

His Minnesota Wild teammates know better than anyone about Parise’s talents. In the second year of a 13-year contract with the Wild, Parise made an instant impact with his new team last season and continues to do this year. Parise quickly became a leader on the team and entered the Olympic break as the second leading scorer on the squad with 19 goals and 36 points3. He recently returned from a broken left foot that kept him out for 14 games and immediately took charge… Without Parise in the lineup, the Wild lost their first four games, but he returned to the lineup with a goal and two assists to take down the conference leading Anaheim Ducks.  Wild coach Mike Yeo had this to say, “We’ve seen it right from the first game that he’s been back with us, how many times we get the puck in the offensive zone, how many turnovers he creates, how much he helps us just to gain zone time in the offensive zone. He’s created chances in every game. He hounds, pressures, and creates turnovers. 2

Whether he’s playing for Team USA or for the Minnesota Wild, Parise makes his presence known wherever he plays. Before becoming an NHL star, Parise spent four years at Shattuck-St.Mary’s, under the watchful eye of his father and hockey legend, J.P. Parise. He then stood out at the University of North Dakota, where he was nominated for the Hobey Baker Award, was named an All-American, and led all rookies in points during the 2002-03 season. Before going pro, Parise also led Team USA to their first-ever gold medal over Canada in the 2004 World Junior Championships. Parise was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament for his performance. 1

Zach Parise has proven he’s capable of winning gold. Now, as captain of Team USA, Parise hopes to lead his fellow Americans to victory at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Regardless of whether Team USA wins gold or not, Captain America, Zach Parise, is bound to make an impact on the outcome.

1 –  NBC Olympics

2 – The Star Tribune

3 – ESPN.com

Alli Baker is a hockey fanatic and contributor for Designated for Assignment.  She can be reached at allibaker23@aol.com or followed on Twitter at @allibaker23

The Olympics Have Lost That Loving Feeling


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As a kid I could not wait for the Olympics to start. Four years seemed like such a long time to see both the winter and summer games played in the same year. I especially loved watching the winter games with ice hockey, ski jumping, downhill races, and speed skating. For the summer games it was the sprints, pole vaulting, long jump and decathlon in track and field, boxing, and basketball.

Things change once you start to get older and the curtain is drawn back, and the wizard is revealed to be nothing more than an ordinary man.  Front and foremost, the corruption of the International Olympic Committee and their laissez-faire attitude towards any mistreatment of the citizens of a host country is exposed. The blatant cheating in sports like figure skating and boxing where medals are based on the score of judges. The completely absurd men’s basketball final in the ’72 games when the Russians manipulated the gold medal right out of the US’ hands in the men’s basketball finale. The final blow was the proliferation of professional athletes in most events.

Some of my favorite Olympic memories as a kid were watching the US beat the big bad Russians or East Germans, or any other team that was already using professional amateurs. The 1980 ice hockey gold medal, better known as the “Miracle on Ice” will never be replicated. It can’t be when teams are loaded with players from the NHL and pro leagues in Europe.

There’s been tragedy as well. The savage murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich summer games in ’72. There was also the bombing at the 1996 summer games in Atlanta that left two people dead.

Let’s not forget the political impact either. The politics that are not supposed to be part of the Olympic experience. Yet Sochi, Russia was chosen for the current games despite a blatant anti-gay policy. Despite pushing people out of their homes to build facilities for the games and the needless slaughter of stray dogs (some of which became stray after the government forced their owner out of their homes), because God forbid one may run into an Olympic venue. Two years the summer games were in China, a country that blatantly abuses their citizens.

There was the US boycott of the 1980 summer games in Moscow due to the Soviet Union’s invasion into Afghanistan and the the Soviets subsequent boycott of the ’84 summer games in Los Angeles as payback. This year, the IOC, in their infinite wisdom, would not allow a tribute to deceased snow boarder Sarah Burke, because that would be political.  Putting a sticker on your helmet with her name is political? Someone should read the dictionary definition for  the word political to IOC head Thomas Bach, who is doing a fine job following in the foot steps of his inept predecessor Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Despite it all, I’ll still be watching the Men’s hockey tournament, but possibly nothing more than that. And if they keep up the slaughter of stray dogs, I may just skip it all together.

Lastly , have you heard this nonsense that there is no such thing as the Easter Bunny?
Drew Sarver is the publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes or by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.