Speed and defense. That is the formula U.S. Olympic coach Dan Bylsma is hoping will push the Americans to their first gold medal in men's hockey since 1980.
Bylsma took part in a conference call Friday, two days after the Olympic roster was announced in Ann Arbor, Mich., at the Winter Classic. The U.S. came within a whisker of a gold medal in Vancouver in 2010, losing in overtime to Canada in the championship game.
The Americans still have a hard time matching the star power of the Canadians and Russians, but they've shown in the past they can contend if they get a strong collective effort.
“Skating and speed at a premium,” Bylsma said. “We also thought this group of players and this team should be great defensively.”
Bobby Ryan, who helped the United States earn a silver medal in 2010, was probably the highest-profile omission from the roster this time around. Goaltender Ryan Miller, the tournament MVP at the Vancouver Games, is back on the team. Jonathan Quick and Jimmy Howard are the other two goalies.
Whether it was Jim Craig in 1980 or Miller 30 years later, terrific goaltending always seems vital to any success the U.S. may have at the Olympics. Miller has a 92.6 save percentage this season for the Buffalo Sabres, but Quick and Howard have both been limited by injuries.
Howard is coming off a sprained knee, and Quick hasn't played since Nov. 12 because of a groin injury.
“We've been well aware of their status and what their injuries are,” Bylsma said.
Bylsma was joined on the call by forwards David Backes and Zach Parise, two holdovers from 2010. NHL stars competing at the Olympics always face questions about how a gold medal might compare to winning a Stanley Cup.
“I say it's like asking a mother to pick between two kids,” Backes said.
It was Parise who tied the gold-medal game against Canada in 2010 with less than a minute remaining in regulation — a goal that became a mere footnote when Sidney Crosby's overtime wrist shot beat the Americans.
“Hopefully this time we'll get ourselves another opportunity to play in that game,” Parise said.
The Americans expect to be a medal contender after they were regarded as young underdogs in 2010, but playing in Russia — and on wider rinks — will present a challenge during a break from NHL play.
“We've looked at as much international hockey as we could,” said Bylsma, who coaches the Pittsburgh Penguins. “The neutral zone, transition from defense to offense in that area, is different.”
Brooks Orpik — another holdover from Vancouver — will be expected to help anchor the U.S. defensemen. Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild is also back for a second Olympics.
David Poile, the general manager of the U.S. team, was asked on the conference call about Ryan's omission — specifically a comment attributed to Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke about Ryan.
In a behind-the-scenes look at the U.S. selection process by ESPN.com, Burke was quoted as saying about Ryan: “He is not intense. That word is not in his vocabulary.”
Poile said Burke has attempted to reach out to Ryan.
“What goes on in the room should stay in the room, and unfortunately this was a characterization that on the whole was not representative of what actually happened,” Poile said. “Brian Burke, when I asked all of our committee to give me their final roster, he had Bobby Ryan on his team. ... There were many, many things that were said positively about Bobby Ryan. I'm just sorry that that got out.”