It may have only been one game, but the USA has to be thrilled with their start at the 2012 IIHF World Hockey Championships.
They absolutely embarrassed the French in a 7-2 win on Friday.
France kicked off the scoring with a goal by Nicolas Besch in the 12th minute of the game, but was quickly equalized four minutes later by Kyle Okposo of the New York Islanders. Four combined goals in the second period and the US were in a commanding 4-2 position heading into the third period. Three more goals in the final period were just icing on the cake.
Sure France isn’t the favorite to win the 76th annual event (that dubious distinction belongs to Canada, who are coming off a 3-2 win over Slovakia), but the Americans have to be thrilled with the way this year’s event has kicked off.
It’s no secret the players in this tournament would rather be playing for the Stanley Cup, but the World Championships allow players to give Olympic officials an up-close look at their talents and ability to compete on the international stage.
In the past, America has had little success at the event, medaling only twice in the last 20 years (bronze in 1996 and 2004). The last time the US won gold was in 1933.
So why is this year different?
For one, the team has three members of the 2010 Olympic team with Jack Johnson, Bobby Ryan and Paul Stastny, which will give some much-needed experience on a team with mostly young players.
Another huge plus is goaltending.
For the first time in years, there is a legit No. 1 goalie with Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings on board. In what looks to be a hotly contested race to land on the 2014 team alongside Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller, you can expect Howard to give his full effort to the World Hockey Championship festivities.
That will ultimately be the big difference for the Americans. If Howard gets hot and the veteran captains can keep the young guns focused, USA is going to be right in the mix for a gold medal.
Canada, Russia and Sweden all stand in their way, but with a terrific mix of stars, role players and a great goaltender, this US squad can match up against anybody in this tournament.
We’ll know for sure if they’re for real after their big test against Canada on Saturday.
The 2012 IIHF Word Championship team rosters can be viewed here.
Schedule available here, with all Team USA games broadcast on NBC Sports.
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