With the NHL and NHLPA deciding to not allow their players to attend the 2022 Olympics, Team USA will be without superstars such as Auston Matthews, Patrick Kane, and Adam Fox, and will instead have to rely on a mix of young players who haven’t made the NHL and veterans who are no longer under contract in the NHL. Hockey fans will not get the joy of watching the game’s biggest stars at the Olympics, but still, this will be a fun tournament to watch.
In 2018, Team USA was led by a similar mix of players, with then-college stars Ryan Donato and Troy Terry leading the team to a quarterfinal loss. Neither player will feature in this year’s Olympics, since both players are now full-time NHLers. Brian O’Neill is the only returner from the 2018 team, with every other player featuring in their first Olympics. This will be an inexperienced group at the Olympics but one with plenty of experience wearing the USA jersey, as several players have represented their country at the World Junior Championships.
Currently, in what many people view as a golden generation for American hockey, it’s a shame we won’t see arguably the most talented US team ever play in Beijing, but there’s still plenty to be excited about.
USA Has a Rich Hockey History
On the international stage, the USA has been involved in some of the biggest Olympic games of all time. Most notably, they were involved in the “Miracle on Ice,” defeating the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, ending a dominant streak of four straight Olympic Golds for the Soviet Union. It was one of the greatest underdog stories in sports history, and an event that transcended sports, as this came in the midst of the Cold War. It was a team made up of entirely amateur players that had few future NHL stars. It is still one of the most famous hockey games of all time, and the 1980 Olympics still marks the last time Team USA won Gold.
While the “Miracle on Ice” is likely the most famous international hockey game of all time, a close second is probably the 2010 Gold Medal game. Unfortunately, this game ended in a Team USA loss and featured a golden goal from Sidney Crosby. It was an incredible game where the USA tied it with just 25 seconds left, courtesy of a Zach Parise goal, before falling in overtime to the Crosby-led Canadians. It’s still one of the most exciting games of hockey in recent memory, even if it was a disappointing end to a great tournament for Team USA.
Team USA has only won two gold medals at the Olympic games, but has added eight silver medals and one bronze. Having competed in 21 Olympic Games, USA hockey has won silver in nearly half of its appearances, and has medaled in just over half. With superstars such as Matthews, Kane, and Fox currently tearing up the NHL, now would have been a great opportunity to claim another gold medal, but the responsibility will now be on young players such as Matthew Beniers and Jake Sanderson.
Fun Facts About Team USA & Its Players
- Every player on the 2022 team either currently plays or formerly played college hockey.
- With 79,369 games played and 36,087 points scored by American players at the time of writing, only Canada has more games played and points.
- Herb Drury is the all-time leader in points for Team USA at the Olympics with 33 points, all of which are goals.
- In what Team USA considers the “modern era” from 1956-present day, John Mayasich is the Olympic points leader with 22.
- Chris Chelios is the oldest player to dress for Team USA, playing at 44 years old in 2006.
- Mike Modano is the leading scorer for American-Born players in the NHL, with 1,374 points in 1,499 games.
- Kane leads active players in points with 1,088 in 1,029 games played
Biggest Stars on the World Stage
As I mentioned, the current crop of American players in the NHL is often considered the best we’ve ever seen, but they have still had their fair share of superstars in the past. Kane has a real case to be considered the greatest American-born player of all time, being the first to win the Art Ross Trophy and the Hart Memorial Trophy. At just 33 years old, he has a real shot at passing Modano as the country’s all-time leading scorer in the NHL, which should cement himself as the greatest American-born player ever. Although, someone like Matthews might come for that title before his career is over.
While not American-born, Brett Hull represented Team USA, and is by far the nation’s greatest-ever goal-scorer. His 86 goals in 1990-91 are still the most by anyone not named Wayne Gretzky in a single season, and he sits fifth on the league’s all-time record list with 741 goals, the most by an American. With NHL players having missed the last two Olympics, the late-90s, early-2000s USA teams are likely the most star-studded in history. They featured NHL superstars such as Keith Tkachuk, Modano, Hull, Jeremy Roenick, Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, Phil Housley, and more. Unfortunately, these teams were never able to win a gold medal, but they were proof that Team USA could match the star power of nearly every other nation.
Sanderson and Beniers are the most likely future stars on this year’s USA team, as USA hockey continues to grow its talent. Both players have been dominant forces in college hockey this season. Sanderson currently leads the league in points-per-game for a defenseman, as the University of North Dakota blue liner proves why he was a top-five draft pick. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sanderson become the number one defenseman on this team, as he has the toolset to log big minutes at this tournament. Beniers is joined by forward Nathan Smith as college hockey’s two leading scorers, as both players will look to provide offense in Beijing. Beniers will also look to bring the 200-foot solidity that saw him drafted second overall in 2021.
Of the veteran players on Team USA, the biggest expectations will probably rest on the shoulders of O’Neil, who has Olympic experience and is currently the most productive professional player on the team. They’ll rely on him for veteran leadership and offensive production. Players like Nick Shore, Kenny Agostino, Steven Kampfer, and goalie Strauss Mann are other players who are currently applying their trade overseas, and Mann in particular could take on a big role with this team. The starting goalie spot will be a battle between him and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Drew Commesso, and with Mann having some of the best goalie numbers in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), this season, he has a good shot at earning the starting role.
Where Will Team USA’s Players Come From?
Most of the team comes from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), with 15 of the 25 players currently playing in the NCAA. Five of the players are currently playing in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), two are playing in the SHL, one is playing in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL), and two are playing in the American Hockey League (AHL). Team USA is relying heavily on the NCAA for its talent at this year’s tournament, and it’s easy to see why. I’ve already mentioned Beniers and Sanderson, but the talent doesn’t stop there, with Brock Faber, Matthew Knies, Brendan Brisson, and Sean Farrell being just a few of the big names heading to the tournament from the NCAA.
While the lack of talent certainly hurts Team USA, it also hurts nearly every other nation just as much. Winning a medal should be the minimum expectation for this USA team, and they have a real shot at the gold. They will be relying heavily on young talent in this tournament, but there’s enough talent to beat any team in Beijing. Russia will likely be their biggest challenger, as they boast some fantastic KHL talent, and Team Canada is always a threat, but there’s no reason the US can’t beat either team. If the young talent shows up, this will be a very dangerous team.