Over Christmas break the United States’ men’s hockey roster for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia was announced. The USA team has a lot to play for after taking team Canada to overtime just four years ago in Vancouver and losing to them to place for silver. The goal this year, as it is every four years, is obviously gold and team USA wants to put out the best roster possible. However, a few questionable decisions make me think that not all of the right players were chosen for the team.
On offense, particularly the right wing position, there is a big snub debate. Names like Senators’ winger Bobby Ryan, Islanders winger Kyle Okposo and Wild winger Jason Pominville come up as the three clearest snubs, but it’s hard to say that with confidence. The right wingers that team USA chose ahead of all of these players (Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, T.J. Oshie, Ryan Callahan and Blake Wheeler) are all phenomenal athletes and deserve their spots on the roster. This isn’t to say players like Ryan, Okposo and Pominville aren’t talented or are undeserving but that others simply earned the roster spot over them. The surplus of talented right wingers team USA has is a great problem to have because it means that the future is bright for the team in that position, so I think it’s tough to consider these three men snubs when the others in their place are just as good if not better.
The one clear snub I see on offense is at the center position: Columbus Blue Jackets’ Brandon Dubinsky. This is not to say that Dubinsky should have made the team over any of the projected starting centers, but he certainly should have made it over his former teammate, New York Ranger, Derek Stepan. Stepan’s numbers last year made him a clear cut favorite to make team USA, but this year his offensive production has declined. Meanwhile in Columbus, Dubinsky is having one of the best years of his career, yet he finds himself off the roster. Stepan had a great deal of success in World Juniors for the USA a few years ago, but that shouldn’t give him the nod over a player who has had a much better season this year in Dubinsky. World Juniors is not the Olypmics, and while I believe Stepan has the skills to perform well on a big stage, he hasn’t shown that this year, whereas Dubinsky has.
Now to the more complicated, confusing snub: defense. Between the two Johnsons, Erik of Colorado and Jack of Columbus, and Coyotes’ defenseman Keith Yandle, at least one should be on the team USA roster; instead, none of them are. It seems as if the team wanted to keep Penguins’ defensemen together. Paul Martin was a clear cut choice to make the team, but it seems that his defensive partner Brooks Orpik was put on the team specifically for his chemistry with Martin. Does that mean Orpik deserves a spot over the Johnsons or Yandle? I don’t think so, especially since Jack Johnson proved himself a valuable asset to team USA in the last Olypmic games and Erik Johnson was supposedly a lock for a spot in the summer. I can understand Ducks’ defenseman Cam Fowler over Yandle, but not Orpik over Yandle or the Johnsons for the sole reason of chemistry. If you practice enough with a player, chemistry will come. Either Johnson could do just as good a job as Orpik despite not playing with Martin during the season on the same team. They might not work as well together at first as Orpik and Martin, but Martin is talented enough to adapt, and the Johnsons, or Yandle, can certainly do the same.
Arguably, the biggest snub was Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop. I understand putting in the Sabres’ Ryan Miller and Kings’ Jonathan Quick due to past Olympic performances, but how the Red Wings’ Howard got the nod over Bishop is beyond me. Howard was hurt for a good portion of the season, not to mention his numbers weren’t spectacular before his injury. On top of that, Bishop not only has better numbers than Howard, but also Miller and Quick. Now, unless they had very serious injuries or tanked miserably this year there was no way Miller or Quick were not going to find themselves on the roster simply due to Olympic merit, but Bishop is one of the hottest goalies in the world at the moment. How could team USA not bring him to a tournament where there is so much on the line? I can sort of understand the offensive snubs, even some of the defensive ones, but Bishop not being on the team is something I cannot comprehend.
All this being said, team USA was chosen for a specific reason. It’s like Herb Brooks said of the 1980 USA Olypmic hockey team that upset the USSR in the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid: “I’m not looking for the best players . . . I’m looking for the right ones.” Perhaps the leaders of team USA had this in mind when they chose specific role players over supposedly clear cut choices for the Olympic games this year. Either way, the stage is set, the team was made, and pretty soon it’s off to Sochi.