HELSINKI Ė 2013 has already proved a banner year for USA Hockey. With U20 gold and Womenís World gold already won, attention turns to the senior menís national team and their effort at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
Team USA is always talented, competitive and their ambition to win it all is clear. The challenge here is in how soon this team can coalesce in a way that leads to a medal run.
Ben Bishop will likely get the call here to be the starting goaltender for the Americans and carrying the load throughout the tournament. Bishop was traded from the Ottawa Senators to the Tampa Bay Lightning prior to the trade deadline. Bishop is expected to compete to be Tampa Bayís starting goaltender for the 2013/2014 season.
This tournament will be a great breakout opportunity, especially with Hockey Canada Menís National Team Executive Director Steve Yzerman looking on. It was Yzerman in his capacity as General Manager of the Lightning who traded for Bishop. Bishop is also exceptional in shootouts, something that is an advantage to have in a tournament such as this. He also happens to be the tallest goaltender in the NHL.
Cal Heeter, an Ohio State University standout, is a member of the team. Heeterís first pro season included a brief stay with the Trenton Titans and then the Adirondack Phantoms where he played 32 games and posted a 2.92 goals against average. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native John Gibson completed his OHL career and recently turned pro.
There is plenty of talent and skill on defence for the Americans here in Helsinki. Leading the way will be Erik Johnson, Matt Carle and Jacob Trouba. Winnipeg defender Trouba is the player really worth keeping an eye on. Trouba is an amazingly talented defenceman who was a key contributor for Team USA at the U20 World Championship with four goals in seven games.
Over the course of his amateur international career, Trouba has won three gold medals. He scored 12 goals and 29 points for the University of Michigan in his final season of NCAA hockey.
Erik Johnson was the first overall draft pick by the St. Louis Blues in 2006. Johnson has not yet quite lived up to the potential that scouts and others foresaw but he is only 25 and with a chance to continue improving.
Justin Faulk enjoyed a stellar 2012 World Championship with four goals and eight points. Jeff Petry, who also played well in Helsinki last spring, returns. He will continue to play a key role here. Matt Carle is an eight-year NHL veteran who is making his national team debut at the World Championship. Chris Butler, Matt Hunwick and Jamie McBain add necessary depth.
Looking at the American roster you will not find easily known names familiar to NHL followers. Instead, the team is comprised of players with leadership who will compete effectively while also bringing character and work ethic.
Among the group of forwards, the most recognizable to international hockey fans would be Paul Stastny. Apart from his famous Hall of Fame father, Stastny has represented Team USA twice at the World Championships and once at the Olympics. Coming off a difficult season with the Colorado Avalanche, Stastny will be counted on to provide leadership and offence.
Nick Bjugstad, who made his NHL debut this year with the Florida Panthers, is a highly touted centre. Gaining experience at the tender age of 20 will be important for his overall development as a player and as a future member of the U.S. national team.
There is also an accomplished group of recent college players who will learn and compete on the international stage. Those players include Danny Kristo, Craig Smith, Drew LeBlanc and Bobby Butler. Stephen Gionta makes his first appearance with the American team. His brother Brian represented Team USA on three previous occasions.
Joe Sacco was named head coach of Team USA on April 15th and thirteen days later was relieved of his duties as head coach of the Colorado Avalanche. The World Championship now offers Sacco the opportunity to showcase himself and his bench skills not only to the NHL but also for teams around the world, for that matter.
Saccoís Colorado teams played up-tempo hockey and heís worked well with young players. It would seem that his coaching philosophy is well suited for the international game. He was an assistant coach at the World Championship in Switzerland 2009 and Germany 2010.
As a player, Sacco played 738 regular season games in the NHL and another 26 in the playoffs. Heís represented Team USA as a player in the 1992 Winter Olympics and in six World Championships, the last taking place in 2002 when the tournament was held over three cities in Sweden.
Watching Team USA year after year you get the sense that this is a hungry side, ready to challenge history and move beyond the two bronze medals won in recent memory (1996 and 2004). The test will come through group play and the Americans could advance to the playoff round. Can they pull it together to make a run at a medal? Time and cohesion will tell.