U.S. hockey team not very good

Waterloo Region Record - - Sports - NEIL GREEN­BERG

The 2018 Win­ter Games in Pyeongchang will be the first since 1994 not to fea­ture a men’s ice hockey tour­na­ment stocked with Na­tional Hockey League play­ers.

For the U.S. men’s team, that’s go­ing to be a big prob­lem. And it al­ready showed in Team U.S.A.’s first game against Slove­nia, a 3-2 over­time loss.

Many of the play­ers on the ros­ter are way past their prime. Some never had a prime.

Brian Gionta, at 39 years old, has played 1,006 ca­reer games in the NHL. James Wis­niewski, who turns 34 years old later this month, skated 47 sec­onds with Carolina Hur­ri­canes in 2015 and was re­leased by the Tampa Bay Light­ning in ’16 af­ter fail­ing to se­cure a spot on a try­out con­tract. Be­fore head­ing to Pyeongchang he was skat­ing for the Kas­sel Huskies in the sec­ond tier of the Ger­man league. Mark Ar­co­bello, 29 years old, played in three games for the Toronto Maple Leafs dur­ing the ’15-16 sea­son, his last stint in the NHL.

Ac­cord­ing to Ter­rence Doyle of FiveThir­tyEight, this ros­ter has played 3,083 games at the NHL level, scor­ing 1,216 points, a per game av­er­age (0.39) that is lower than the av­er­age found in the Olympics among all ros­ters (0.42). It is al­most half the tal­ent found on the team com­prised of the Olympic Ath­letes from Rus­sia (0.76 NHL points per game played in the NHL lead­ing up to 2018 Win­ter Games).

But there is ex­pe­ri­ence in other leagues aside from the NHL. The Amer­i­cans are also us­ing four col­lege play­ers (Jor­dan Green­way, Ryan Donato, Troy Terry and Will Bor­gen), three Amer­i­can Hockey League play­ers (Chris Bourque, Bobby But­ler and John McCarthy) and five play­ers from the Kon­ti­nen­tal Hockey League (Brian O’Neill, Ryan Stoa, Matt Gil­roy, Jonathon Blum and Ryan Zapol­ski). Us­ing Rob Voll­man’s NHL equiv­a­len­cies, which help trans­late stats from one league to an­other, we can ex­pect this squad to score 219 goals per 82 games at the NHL level, on par with the ’17-18 Ot­tawa Se­na­tors (19-26-9, 47 points and sev­enth out of eight teams in the At­lantic Divi­sion).

That sounds good — to be any­where near an NHL level of scor­ing with a rag­tag group of nonNHL play­ers is com­mend­able — but con­sid­er­ing the ’10 squad in Van­cou­ver scored goals at a rate of 351 goals per 82 NHL games and the ’14 unit in Sochi was at 446 per 82 it is easy to see just how big a falloff we can ex­pect in Pyeongchang with no NHL play­ers.

I know what you’re think­ing: in 1980 in Lake Placid, the United States ral­lied be­hind nonNHLers and it be­came the coun­try’s great­est Olympic mo­ment. True, but that squad was, on av­er­age, 22 years old, with 25year-olds Buzz Schnei­der and Mike Eruzione the el­der states­men on the team.

The 2018 team av­er­ages 29.6 years old, with just three play­ers — Bor­gen, Green­way and Terry — 22 years old or younger. The av­er­age NHL skater plateaus from age 22 to 25 years old, push­ing this ’18 Olympic squad into the “old” cat­e­gory, even if there is a sprin­kling of col­le­giate ath­letes on the ros­ter.

Could an­other dark horse U.S. men’s hockey team rise up and beat the Olympic Ath­letes from Rus­sia, cur­rently the favourite to win gold, or their archri­val Team Canada, the sec­ond-choice in the bet­ting mar­kets? Sure, but it will be a shocker if they do. Based on the open­ing odds from the West­gate Las Ve­gas Su­per­book, Team U.S.A. has just a nine per cent chance at go­ing home with gold for the first time since 1980.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

U.S. Olympian Brian Gionta, at 39 years old, has played 1,006 ca­reer games in the NHL.

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