It must be hard for Tony Granato, head coach of the 2018 U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey team, not to dip into the well at Lake Placid too many times.
There isn’t easier shorthand for what an NHL-less Olympics looks like for an American player: The rag-tag group of underdogs looking to overcome insurmountable odds to win gold, just like they did in 1980.
(Oh and, of course, under the tutelage of a charismatic coach.)
“I think we have lots of players in our country and in our talent pool that will give us the same kind of excitement we had in Lake Placid. I thought [the NHL in the Olympics] was great for our game. But this is a great opportunity for these guys,” said Granato at an Olympic media summit, via the Star Tribune.
We won’t know the exact makeup of the team until January 1, 2018, when the first roster is expected to be released. (Although, due to the NHL vs. IOC pissing match, not likely at the Winter Classic.)
We can expect some young college stars like Jordan Greenway of Boston University (above) and Troy Terry of the University of Denver to make the cut – after all, they participated in the media summit – but who else is headed to Pyeongchang?
Granato views the Europe-based pros as a good base for the team, because they already are playing on Olympic-size ice for teams whose schedules will not wear them out before February. A group of those players — along with Granato and his Olympic staff — will represent the U.S. at Germany’s Deutschland Cup in November, the only pre-Olympic tournament the Americans will play.
“We’ll get a pretty good idea at that tournament of what we have,’’ Granato said. “From that tournament, we’ll probably have a pretty good chunk of our team that will be with us moving forward, then we’ll fill in with the college players and players here in the minors.”
He echoed that to the LA Times:
“We will have NHL-caliber players on our team. We will have players that play on our team that will advance to the NHL and be stars in the NHL after,” Granato said at the Team USA media summit. “We’re looking for a confident and energized group of players that we believe will give us the best chance to win.
“I think there’s an elite group of players that are playing professionally in Europe that we’ll kind of build our team around from the standpoint of they’re playing on the big sheet right now and they’re playing a relatively friendly schedule compared to our NHL schedule. It’s not quite as grinding and they should be a little bit fresher as they head into the month of February. But we’ll look for character players. … We’re going to have a team that I think the American people and the American hockey fan will be proud of.”
In a tournament like this, the success or failure of the U.S. squad will be all about execution of systems and quality of goaltending.
On that first aspect, Granato told Craig Custance of The Athletic:
“You’re not going to have a ton of practice time. The system we put in is going to be simple. Simple systems usually are the best systems anyways. Everybody has played the way we’re going to teach and coach.”
Which is the best thing to hear.
But as far as goalies … well, who knows?
Cal Petersen seemed like a likely choice, but the Notre Dame goalie is now in the Los Angeles Kings’ system. As an AHL player, he won’t be able to go.
Ryan Zapolski, 30, a former ECHL and AHL farmhand? Potentially, given he’s played in Europe for the last five years, and has played well for Jokerit (1.39 GAA, .943 save percentage) so far this season.
Bottom line: Granato and Team USA have some hasty decisions to make.