Americans expected to do big things in Sochi
Zach Parise's dramatic, last-minute goal in the gold-medal game of the 2010 Winter Olympics wasn't a game-winner, nor did it help lead his team to victory. All Parise's goal did on that day in Vancouver was get the United States into overtime against Canada.
There, Sidney Crosby would win it for the Canadians, releasing the tension that gripped the nation's hockey fans from British Columbia to the Maritimes, kicking off a party that spanned the country.
However, Parise's goal remains the signature moment for the United States from the 2010 Olympics and is the jumping-off point for greater expectations in Sochi, Russia this February. The NHL announced Friday that it will take a break in its 2013-14 season to allow NHL players once again to play in the Olympics.
The Americans will head into the 12-team tournament that starts Feb. 12, 2014 as a favorite to medal and as a serious contender for gold. Parise, now a star left wing for the Minnesota Wild, said that's the way it should be.
"Now we know how to get there," Parise told NHL.com. "We played well in 2010 and we have a lot of returning players, so hopefully that helps. We didn't know what to expect in Vancouver and sometimes that's a good thing; but now we do know and now we can do better."
Parise and Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane should headline the list of returning players for the U.S. in 2014. There are more than a dozen players from the 2010 team that could be in Sochi, including: Phil Kessel (Toronto Maple Leafs), Bobby Ryan (Ottawa Senators), Ryan Callahan (New York Rangers), David Backes (St. Louis Blues), Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks), Ryan Kesler (Vancouver Canucks), Dustin Brown (Los Angeles Kings), Paul Stastny (Colorado Avalanche) Ryan Suter (Wild), Jack Johnson (Columbus Blue Jackets), Erik Johnson (Avalanche), Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres).
Jonathan Quick of the Kings was the No. 3 goalie for the Americans in 2010, but could be No. 1 in 2014.
"I think we have as good a chance as anyone," Parise said. "We had a hot goalie all the way through in 2010 and a lot of the time that's all you need in these tournaments. We won't go in with the flashiest roster, but we have as good a chance as any team."
But the Americans, who will be coached by the Penguins' Dan Bylsma, will be no different than the Canadians in that they will have to adjust quickly to the bigger ice surface and an unfamiliar setting at least eight time zones from home.
For the Americans, Vancouver, with its NHL-size ice sheet and North American culture, was a breeze compared to what it likely will be like in Sochi.
"There is no question we were comfortable in Vancouver because everything was familiar and the stuff we did on days off, with family, was stuff we would normally do on days off," Parise said. "It was just comfortable, but now we're going to a place where it's not so comfortable. I don't think we'll have the same following we had in Vancouver, but that's something we will have to adapt to.
"That's what everybody will have to do, though."
Maybe so (except for the Russians), but the international rink, which is 15 feet wider than an NHL rink, typically leads to a more wide-open game, which hasn't translated into too many medals for the United States.
"It's a different game on the bigger ice," Callahan told NHL.com. "You can't play that exact North American-style that you want to play where you're pressuring really hard. On the bigger ice, that extra 15 feet becomes a big difference."
The Americans were able to adapt to the larger ice and capture the silver medal in 2002, but that was on their home turf in Salt Lake City, Utah. European teams swept the medals in Nagano, Japan in 1998 and in Turin, Italy in 2006; the United States finished sixth in Nagano and eighth in Turin. The Americans also went eight years without a medal in the IIHF World Championship before winning bronze at the 2013 Worlds in Sweden.
"We've have to tune-up our thinking a little bit and the type of players we're going to choose," USA general manager David Poile said. "We're going to have a lot of guys back from 2010, that's accurate, and that's going to be our core and foundation, but there are going to be new and some different types of players on that team, all with the thought process that they can help contribute to us winning in Sochi."
Parise and Callahan said patience will be essential.
"You see the European players, they almost play keep-away sometimes," Parise said. "We're going to need more patience than we think we'll need."
"Patience with and without the puck," Callahan said. "There will be a bit of a learning curve. There's no way we can be totally prepared for it without at least playing our first game."
The question is, will the Americans be playing for gold in their last game?
That's the goal -- and also now the expectation for the United States.
"Obviously we weren't maybe looked at as a contender last time, or at least as highly as we are going to be next year, but as a team that doesn't change your goal, that doesn't change what you want to achieve over there," Callahan said. "We're not going to surprise anybody. From the outside those expectations are going to be there. But with the group of guys that we eventually put together, it's going to be a lot of mature players, a lot of players who have obviously been there before and have had success at the NHL level with expectations and with pressure on them. The group as a whole will be able to handle it."