By Kyle Gunn-Taylor:
The patriotism inspired by the 2012 Summer Olympics has evoked memories of the 2010 winter games when the United States squared off with Canada in the men's ice hockey finals in Vancouver.
Two years removed from the border battle defeat that captured the attention of both nations, a sour taste still lingers.
Despite the valiant effort put forth by a far less touted U.S. squad, Sidney Crosby and his mates rallied on native soil to bring hockey Canada its 8th gold medal.
Amidst the agonizing defeat, the Americans stole a few moral victories. Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller won the tournament MVP, despite having a Silver medal hang around his neck.
Perhaps more importantly, the US dug a thorn into the side of the world's hockey giant as a warning that it's not just a blossoming flower, but a team on the cusp of maturing into a favored contender.
While the next winter Olympics don't take place until 2014 in Sochi, Russia, it's never too early to speculate what additions and subtractions will be made to the US roster.
Retired Brian Rafalski, aging Chris Drury and Jamie Langenbrunner have played in their final Olympic games. Quasi-retired back-up goaltender Tim Thomas says he wants to return to team USA in 2014 after taking a sabbatical from the NHL in 2012-2013, but with an influx of young goaltending talent, Thomas is likely to be one of the odd-men out as well.
Barring significant injury, team USA will return a solid young foundation from the 2010 squad. Built around New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan and Los Angeles Kings captain and 2012 Stanley Cup Champion Dustin Brown, USA has young leadership.
The US roster has a great mix of talent and physicality. Ryan Kesler (Vancouver), Joe Pavelski (San Jose) and Paul Statsny (Colorado) join Callahan as the team's solid young center icemen. Brown, newly acquired Minnesota Wild star Zach Parise, Bobby Ryan (Anaheim) and Ryan Malone (Tampa Bay) are all but locks to fill out the roster on the left wing.
On the right side, David Backes (St. Louis), Patrick Kane (Chicago) and Phil Kessel (Toronto) have proven they belong on the world stage.
That tentatively leaves two forward spots for the top American talent to grind for. Players to watch to fill those two spots are; Max Pacioretty (Montreal), Derek Stepan (New York Rangers), Kyle Okposo (NY Islanders), James van Riemsdyk (Toronto) and Nick Palmieri (Minnesota).
The US is about as solid on the backend as any team in the world. A young, nasty duo of Keith Yandle (Phoenix) and Ryan Suter (Minnesota) lead the way. Jack Johnson (Columbus), Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis), Alex Goligoski (Pittsburgh) and Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh) look like the current favorites to occupy the remainder of the top-6 spots.
D-men who will certainly be in the mix to snipe a spot from one of those six are; Erik Johnson (Colorado), Ryan Whitney (Edmonton), John Carlson (Washington), Ryan McDonagh (NY Rangers) and Rob Scuderi (Los Angeles).
Between the pipes it would seem as though Ryan Miller is the guy considering he was the team and tournament MVP in 2010, but Los Angeles net minder Jonathan Quick has raised his level of play significantly over the past year, leading the Kings to the Cup in 2012 with a Conn Smythe (Playoff MVP) performance.
Quick and Miller look like the top dogs who are battling for the opportunity to backbone a gold medal run. Nipping closely on their heels are; Jimmy Howard (Detroit) and NHL star in waiting, Corey Schneider (Vancouver).
If the Canucks move current starter and Team Canada goaltender Roberto Luongo in favor of Schneider, it may be the opportunity the American needs to prove he can carry not only an NHL workload, but an Olympic one as well.
There are two Sabres who local fans would love to see pull a Brett Hull and utilize their dual citizenship to skate with Team USA. Tyler Myers and Marcus Foligno would both fit in well with the red, white and blue, but both players skated with team Canada at the World Junior Championships.
Although it's unlikely neither could make the Canadian roster, it is not a lock that they could crack Team USA's deep lineup either. Regardless, it would make for Hull-like traitor chants if they indeed made the switch and contributed to the team.
A lot can change over the next two seasons, including the idea that professionals may not be allowed by the CBA to participate in the Olympic Games. It would be a mistake to exclude Olympic participation by players in the new CBA.
There's no better showcase for hockey and the NHL than the Olympics. It's a time when non-fans are willingly exposed to the NHL product. It's millions of dollars of free advertising for the sport. It is well worth the inconvenience of shuffling the schedule, and the risk of player injury.
The 2014 games will be here before you know it and it could be the year Team USA brings home their first Gold since the 1980 Miracle on ice.