International Ice Hockey Federation

Team USA comes together

Team USA comes together

Euro-based players eye Olympic roster spots

Published 11.11.2017 04:15 GMT+10 | Author Derek O'Brien
Team USA comes together
Andy Miele (left, with goalie Tim Thomas) represented the United States at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and hopes to earn a ticket to the Olympics. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
The U.S. men’s national team will have its big test before PyeongChang 2018 as the Deutschland Cup will be its only tournament before the Olympics.

This weekend the team, made up primarily of players in European leagues, will take part in the Deutschland Cup in Augsburg, Germany, just as it does every second year.

This time the tournament will get more international attention in North America. Because the National Hockey League won’t be taking a break in its schedule in February, the participating teams will be using the Deutschland Cup to evaluate potential players for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. For Team USA, this will be the only international tournament it competes in prior to the Olympics.

USA Hockey named 29 players to its roster for the Deutschland Cup, so every player won’t play in every game, and not every player will go to the Olympics either. Of those 29, 27 currently play in European leagues – the only exceptions being captain Brian Gionta, who is not under contract with any team, and Ryan Malone of the AHL’s Iowa Wild. Those two have a combined 1,768 games of NHL experience. There’s also a fair bit of NHL experience on the players based in Europe.

“There’s a lot of NHL experience and everyone there has succeeded at high levels, so I’m excited to play with really good players,” said Malmo Redhawks centre Andy Miele, who himself suited up for 15 games with the Phoenix Coyotes between 2011 and 2014. “It makes hockey a lot more fun when you’ve got guys that are all playing the same way and fighting for the same goal in a short period of time. It’s gonna be an exciting experience.”

“I’ve played with and against a few of them and there’s definitely a lot of skill on that team,” said former New York Islanders defenseman Matt Donovan, who now plays against Miele in Sweden as a member of the Frolunda Indians. “Hopefully, we can win at the Deutschland Cup and I think we’ve got a good chance to do that, but we’re all pushing for a spot on that Olympic team – that’s the main goal.”

As one might expect, these players all followed with interest when the NHL announced that its players would not be participating in the upcoming Olympics.

“I was thrilled,” goaltender Brandon Maxwell of Czech club BK Mlada Boleslav said without hesitation. “Many people are mad at that decision, but I’m probably one of the only ones that’s happy.”

“I was excited,” Miele agreed. “It’s unfortunate for them (NHLers) but it’s an opportunity that a lot of us thought would never arise, so we’re super excited to have a shot at being part of the Olympics and we’ll do whatever we can to bring back a medal.”

While many of the names being considered will be known to hockey fans in the United States, some won’t be. One name that might be unfamiliar to North American fans but better known for putting up big numbers in Europe for the past several seasons is Donovan’s Frolunda teammate, centre Ryan Lasch.

“I guess you can say that there was a thought, but it never crossed my mind that there could be a legit chance for that opportunity to happen until the talks started happening,” the 5-foot-7 Lasch admitted.

“He’s great with the puck,” Donovan said of his talented teammate who led both the Swedish Hockey League and Champions Hockey League in scoring in 2015/16. “He’s got great vision and works hard, so it would be really cool if we both made it.”

But despite never playing in the NHL and only 30 games in the AHL, Lasch’s exploits in Europe have earned him recognition by USA Hockey before, having played at the 2012 World Championship in Helsinki.

“That was an amazing opportunity and experience,” said Lasch. “Being able to play for your country, that's something that I will always cherish.”

Despite the different paths the players may have taken in their careers to this point, representing Team USA at one point or another is something that seems to unify all of them, and is a place where many of them have crossed paths before.

“I know quite a few players that are on the roster either personally and just by playing against each other for so many years,” Lasch continued. “I played with Mark Arcobello last year and we won a championship in Bern together also played with Garrett Roe at St. Cloud State University and Noah Welch in Sweden. All talented hockey players and great team guys.”

“I won a gold with the World Junior team and that was one of the best experiences of my career,” Donovan said of the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship in Saskatchewan, which finished with a dramatic overtime win in the final over the host Canadians. “And then playing in the World Championship with and against a lot of guys that are big-name NHLers … obviously, it’s always an honour to play for your country.”

The 2014 World Championship in Minsk included Donovan and Miele, as well as goaltender David Leggio and forward Drew Shore.

“Shore and I will be the two youngest guys and we played together for two years on the national development team, so it’ll be nice to play with him again,” said the 26-year-old Maxwell, who along with Shore won a bronze medal at the 2008 U18 World Championship. “I haven’t been the youngest guy on a team in a while.”

Maxwell is one of three goaltenders named to the roster, along with Leggio of Red Bull Munich and Ryan Zapolski of Jokerit Helsinki. In a three-game tournament, does that mean that each goalie will get one game, or will there be an odd man out of the crease?

“I have no idea,” said Maxwell, “but I’ll do whatever it takes to be a part of that team, whether it’s staying after practise facing extra shots or picking up pucks after the warm-ups or whatever. Of course, I believe I can play and help the team win, but I’m happy to do whatever it takes.”

Shore, who played 14 games for the Vancouver Canucks last season and had previously played for the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers, now plays for the ZSC Lions Zurich in the Swiss National League. He suffered a concussion in early October and just returned to the line-up on Saturday, recording two assists in a 5-3 win over EHC Kloten. He missed the team’s Champions League game in Nottingham on Tuesday but is heading to Augsburg.

Another player just getting back from the injured list is Miele who, after missing five Swedish League games, played his first game back in a Champions League game in Trinec, Czech Republic on Tuesday night. After his team’s 2-1 loss, which eliminated Malmo from the competition, he took an overnight train to Prague, then flew to Germany on Wednesday morning.

“The goal was to get a game in before the tournament. I would have liked to get two or three in, but it was nice to get in there and get my legs going again,” Miele said after the game in Trinec.

On whether or not the time away will affect his game, he answered: “I hope not. I’m just trying to stay as confident as possible and once I get in there, I think the adrenaline will get flowing. I’ll be playing for a shot at the Olympics, so I’m not gonna make any excuses and do the best that I can.”

In addition to getting the chance to play with players like Gionta and Malone, several of the players are also looking forward to playing for the coaching staff headed by Tony Granato with Chris Chelios and Scott Young – all of whom played in the Olympics before beginning their NHL careers.

“I know Granato and Chelios from the Detroit organization, so that makes things a little more comfortable for me going into this situation,” said Miele.

“I watched Chris Chelios play my whole life!” Maxwell gushed. “It’s gonna be just amazing to meet him, let alone play for him. It’s gonna be a new experience for me and I’m just gonna soak it all in and enjoy every day that I’m there.”

While they all want to impress the coaching staff this weekend, every player knows that this tournament alone won’t determine who makes the Olympic team. Still, it’s a good chance to show how well they can play within a unit, and that won’t necessarily mean the players with the biggest names or those who put up the biggest offensive numbers.

“A big part of the Olympic tournament this year, since it’s so unique, is taking the right players – not necessarily just the ones who were once big-time NHLers,” said Miele. “It’s about picking the right team that they think is going to have the best chemistry, both on the ice and off the ice. When you look at teams like Russia, they’re gonna have some ex-NHL stars, so it’s gonna be a huge challenge for the teams that don’t have a lot of that, but that just makes it more exciting.”

“Many guys who play in the KHL or Sweden or Switzerland are very, very good players that could play in the NHL but they can make more money in Europe,” said Maxwell. “That’s something that I think a lot of people back home don’t understand. I think it’s going to be a great tournament and it will show that there are a lot of good players outside the NHL.”

And while the lack of NHL players affects the Team USA as much as any other team in the tournament, everyone knows that the Americans have had success in the Olympics without them before.

“That’s right,” Donovan nodded. “First of all, I hope I make the team and then, if that happens, I hope we can make a name for ourselves like some of those teams before.”

 

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