US men’s hockey team going for the gold medal in Sochi

Every four years, hockey fans around the world are treated to one of the greatest competitions in international sports – the Olympic men’s hockey tournament. The big games between the elite teams could pass as National Hockey League all-star games, and even the smaller teams like Latvia, Switzerland, and Norway, give viewers a great look at talent from other leagues like Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) or Sweden’s Elitserien (SEL).

This year, Team USA has arrived with a bone to pick. In 2010 in Vancouver, an upstart team USA, not even expected to medal, lost in overtime of the gold medal game to arch-rival and widely agreed upon best hockey team in the world, Team Canada. In Sochi, the Americans have set out to prove that 2010 was no farce. In fact, the expectations that both the players and American hockey fans have put on this team make it so that anything less than gold would be a disappointment.

Through the preliminary round, Team USA has set a pace to blow the aforementioned expectations out of the water. In three games against Slovakia, Russia, and Slovenia, the Americans posted a 3-0 record to be one of four teams to earn a bye to the quarterfinals. In those three games, Team USA boasted an explosive offense and stellar defense and goaltending, outscoring their opponents 15-4.

In its first elimination game of the tournament, Team USA will take on the Czech Republic at noon Feb. 19.

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Czechs are certainly not a team to scoff at. Despite posting a 1-2 record through the preliminary round, the Czechs exploded against Slovakia in their first elimination game on Tuesday, winning 5-3 to eliminate the Slovaks and move on to the next round. The Czech roster boasts NHL legends Jaromir Jagr and Patrick Elias. They are a veteran team, with an average age of 30 and many players are playing in their third, some even their fourth, Olympics. Jagr, 42, is currently competing in his fifth Olympics. Captain and former NHL player Petr Nedved is also 42, Elias 37, and veteran defenseman Marek Zidlicky is 37. These world renowned players, along with the rest of the Czech roster, offer a quality offense that could awaken at any moment to compete with any team.

On the flip side, Team USA is a very young team. Backup goaltender Ryan Miller is the oldest member of the squad at 33, and the average age of the team is 26. Only 13 players on the American roster have prior Olympic experience, and six of their eight defensemen are making their first trip.

Despite this lack of experience, it is still hard to see Team USA falling to the Czech Republic. Lead by Phil Kessel of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, America’s offense is tied with Finland as the best at the tournament with 15 goals apiece. Kessel, who’s sister Amanda has been a huge force the American women’s hockey team who are taking on Canada for the gold medal Thursday, leads all men’s Olympic skaters with four goals and three assists for seven points in only three games. The Americans bring a fast game to the ice, skating hard and blowing by the opponent’s defense. While the Czechs have the pure talent to stay on pace with the Americans, fitness and fatigue will be the difference between the two teams. In this arena, the clear advantage goes to America.

With all of these factors in mind, it is probable that this explosive American squad will come out on top over the Czech Republic. America’s overwhelming offense and invigorating youth makes them a favorite not only against the Czech team, but to win gold overall. If they do beat the Czechs and move on, they will take on the winner of Wednesday’s Canada vs. Latvia game to decide who goes to the gold medal game. In the likely scenario that Canada beats Latvia, Team USA will have a chance to vindicate their 2010 performance, exact revenge on Canada, and move on to their second consecutive gold medal game appearance at the Olympic Games.