The general consensus among most hockey fans leading up to the Men's Hockey Tournament at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics is that the gold medal will be won by one of the three following countries: Canada, Russia, or defending champion Sweden. However, there are three primary reasons for why Team USA can stage an upset reminiscent of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team.
First, the Olympic Tournament is unlike the NHL Playoffs, which has 16 teams play four best-of-seven playoff series over two-plus months. In contrast, the Olympic Tournament is only 12 days long, so a team vying for the gold medal could have only played five games (three preliminary, two tournament) before reaching the winner-take-all gold medal game. At that point, it's a Game Seven—anything could happen.
Second, this will be the first Olympic Tournament played on NHL-sized ice. This gives both Team USA (and Team Canada) a bit of an advantage, as all of their players are used to the smaller ice surface. Rather than a bunch of all-stars, Team USA is made up of players who can play a tough, grind-it-out type of hockey game, where sheer physical strength and a relentless checking game can turn what might have been a 3-2 loss into a 3-2 win. This style of hockey is best played on a smaller ice surface.
Goaltending plays a key part in the success of such a strategy, which brings me to my third point. Team USA will be strong in goal, which is key for any team seeking to win the Gold Medal. In 1998, the Czech Republic Team had little star power up front but had an exceptional goalie in Dominik Hasek, who went on a phenomenal run in leading his team to the gold medal. Team USA has a goaltending trio that is among the best in the world, with Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas, and Jonathan Quick. Their success will be immensely crucial for Team USA to advance to the gold medal game.
Up front, Team USA will need all of their skaters to commit to playing disciplined team defense with an emphasis on a strong and relentless fore-check and back-check. Team USA’s offense should be able to produce enough goals to win any game, provided they commit to playing a strong defensive game. With such a young team, it is hard to project how they will handle the Olympic stage. Luckily for Team USA, nearly all of the media will be pre-occupied in dissecting everything that the home Canadians are doing, which will shift a lot of the focus away from Team USA.
Team USA certainly faces daunting opposition in their quest to win a gold medal. While they have been described as underdogs, they are more than capable of beating any other team in this Tournament. As was mentioned in my previous article, Team Canada, with their all-star lineup and home-ice advantage, is the favorite to win the Tournament. However, a few clutch goals here and many more clutch saves there could place Team USA in the gold medal game. At that point, anything can happen.
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