Hockey

The Canadian Press - Monday Dec. 30, 2013 14:11 ET

U.S. ready to be first to unveil men's Olympic hockey roster

Goaltending trio set, according to published report

pacioretty-max-cp-05390535
Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty is in the mix for his first Olympic appearance. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

When the United States chose the Winter Classic for its Olympic roster announcement, it brushed off the later deadline other countries will take advantage of to name their teams for Sochi.

While Canada and the European nations will wait until Jan. 7, the U.S. team will be announced in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Wednesday immediately following the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings.

The Americans believe giving up a whole week to decide the roster won't be a problem, given general manager David Poile's approach to building the team.

"We, in our process, used sort of a game plan as the body of work that player has done to this point, and also how well the player has been playing this year," Poile said on a conference call earlier this month. "We've been doing ghost rosters, we've been talking about individual players, we've watched games, scouted games, we've watched video. We're working on line combinations, defence pairings and it's getting closer and closer and we know we're going to have to make these decisions pretty soon."

The actual decisions have already been made by now, barring a catastrophic injury to a key player before the Winter Classic. Even then, the U.S. has injury exceptions to use, just in case.

Goaltending is one place that could be tested, if Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings isn't fully recovered from a groin injury. According to the Detroit Free Press, Quick, Ryan Miller of the
Buffalo Sabres and Jimmy Howard of the Red Wings will be the goalies named to the team.

"We're certainly hoping that's going to be one of our strengths," Poile said of goaltending.

Miller led the U.S. to a silver medal in Vancouver, and coupled with his 2.69 goals-against average and .927 save percentage this season for the Sabres, that makes him the favourite to start in Sochi.

"With Ryan in goal for almost all the games in 2010, he gave us every chance to win every game and obviously was a big reason why we came within one goal from winning the gold medal," Poile said. "He's played really well this year. Body of work is really important, and Ryan has that. The other criteria was how they're playing this year, and Ryan has played very well. ...

"We think we have some quality guys to chose from, but specifically Ryan's done a real good job and we're looking very hard at him."

There are a handful of locks among skaters, too, including Leafs winger Phil Kessel, Chicago Blackhawks winger and reigning Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Patrick Kane and Vancouver Canucks centre Ryan Kesler. Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk is also among those who should feel very safe about making it.

Poile also singled out his leadership group as far back as the summer, saying "in all likelihood" defenceman Ryan Suter and winger Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild, Dustin Brown of the Kings,
David Backes of the St. Louis Blues and Ryan Callahan of the New York Rangers will be going to Sochi. 

Parise and Callahan are hurt, but that's where the injury exemption comes in because the U.S. will be built around this core that grew out the silver-medal effort four years ago.

"In 2010 the roster was a turnover, if you will, from the previous generation of great U.S.A. stars," Poile said. "We found out a lot about our players in 2010 and we found out a lot about our leadership potential."

Bigger ice taken into consideration

The 2014 group is expected to feature plenty of turnover on defence from Vancouver, with Brian Rafalski retired and Tim Gleason of the Carolina Hurricanes and Ryan Whitney of the Florida Panthers
not expected to return. Players like Ryan McDonagh of the Rangers, John Carlson of the Washington Capitals and Justin Faulk of the Hurricanes could be part of the next generation. 

"No question there's going to be a little bit of a change in our defence, the core from 2010," Poile said.

The bigger ice is something every management team is undoubtedly paying attention to when constructing Olympic rosters. Olympic-sized rinks are 200-by-100 feet, whereas it's 200-by-85 in the NHL.

"When we get to Sochi, the kind of team we're going to have, we have to be respectful of the fact that it's a different ice surface, the bigger ice surface," Poile said. "Obviously there's going to be a premium on speed and because of that we're going to be taking a few different types of players."

Kane and Kessel would be on the team regardless, but more space to work with should help them. Someone like Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens could be a beneficiary of the bigger ice surface.

Pacioretty would be a newcomer, and Poile emphasized that the U.S. team would be built on the "foundation" of Vancouver in 2010.

Count Blues defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk in the latter group, along with other forward possibilities like Derek Stepan of the Rangers, Alex Galchenyuk of the Canadiens and Brandon Saad of the
Blackhawks.

The management team, led by Poile and associate GM Ray Shero of the Pittsburgh Penguins, has been charged with making the tough borderline decisions. Poile considered the coaching staff, led by Dan Bylsma, important when it comes to constructing special teams "units."

More than anything else, the U.S. wants the best players. Poile and 2010 GM Brian Burke are confident that's happening based on those who will be left behind.

"We felt that [picking the team] is much harder this year, and that's a good thing because the U.S. has done a great job in developing players," Poile said. "The most important thing, for USA Hockey specifically, is our talent pool is so much better, so much more in quantity [and] most importantly in quality."

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