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Top Shelf: Sizing up the U.S. and Canadian Olympic teams
By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After the first few days of free agency come and go there is precious little news to keep hockey fanatics going until training camps begin in September.
Fortunately, the summer of 2013 is a bit different because there is Olympic- related hockey talk to fill the void.
Since mid-July, when it was officially announced that NHL players would indeed be allowed to represent their respective nations at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, there has been a steady buzz surrounding the men's hockey tournament at the upcoming Winter Games.
Take this week for example, when Teams USA and Canada held their Olympic Orientation camps in Arlington, Va. and Calgary, Alberta, respectively. Although high insurance costs prevented both nations from putting their camp invitees through the paces on the ice, the gatherings dominated hockey headlines in North America despite the lack of actual hockey being played.
As the word "orientation" suggests these camps are used mainly to get potential Olympians used to being around each other. In fact, the most labor- intensive activity at either the Canadian or American camps was when Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock put his players through a ball-hockey exercise on an international-sized rink. Babcock's drill, however, was not about conditioning but rather a lesson in how a bigger ice surface changes how you prepare to play.
After all, the ice surface will be a big factor at the 2014 Sochi Games. Nearly four years ago when Babcock's Team Canada bested the Americans for Gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the tournament was staged on an NHL-sized surface. It's hardly a coincidence that the two North American teams in competition were also the last two teams left standing in Vancouver, but the U.S. and Canada won't have that advantage come February in Russia.
In fact, the last time the Winter Olympics were played overseas on an international-sized rink neither Canada nor the U.S. made it out of the quarterfinals, while Sweden, Finland and Czech Republic finished first, second and third, respectively, at the 2006 Turin Games.
But, the U.S. and Canada did have success on an international-sized rink at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, where the Canadians earned another Gold medal at the expense of the Americans.
Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman and U.S. GM David Poile both have large talent pools to draw their 25-man rosters from and their task is to find which players best fit the international game. Strong skaters and players who make sound decisions with the puck are a must on the bigger ice sheet, but there is room for specialists like a power forward or a physical defenseman.
Canada's depth is its biggest strength, but that also has its drawbacks. Plenty of GMs from other nations would like to have Yzerman's job because of Canada's embarrassment of riches in terms of hockey skill, but the vast talent pool also means Stevie Y has some extremely difficult roster decisions to make, particularly at the forward positions.
In the end, some star players will be left off the team when the rosters are officially announced later this year, meaning marquee players like Milan Lucic or Martin St. Louis could be at home watching the Winter Games instead of trying to help Team Canada secure another Gold.
Poile has intimated that half of his 25-man roster is already locked in and there's no doubt that one of those spots belongs to goaltender Jonathan Quick, the man who could give U.S. its best chance of dethroning the Canadians. With apologies to 2010 Olympic hero Ryan Miller, the Los Angeles Kings backstop is the American's clear-cut No. 1 netminder with Miller as a distant No. 2.
Canada, meanwhile, will probably lean towards Roberto Luongo in goal, but guys like Carey Price and Corey Crawford could potentially play themselves into the No. 1 spot with a strong start to the NHL season.
The make-up of the final 25-man rosters will depend greatly on how well individual guys play over the first half of the upcoming NHL campaign. With that in mind, here's my early guess as to what those 25-man groups could look like.
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings
Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers
Rick Nash, New York Rangers
Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks
Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings
Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
John Tavares, New York Islanders
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Jay Bouwmeester, St. Louis Blues
Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
Marc Staal, New York Rangers
P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
David Backes, St. Louis Blues
Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings
Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers
Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks
Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues
Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens
Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild
Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators
James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs
Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
Zach Bogosian, Winnipeg Jets
Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets
Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins
Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers
Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues
Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres
Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils
08/28 13:57:42 ET