USA Hockey Continues Prep for 2018 Olympics

The regular season in the Canadian Hockey League’s three leagues got underway this past weekend. The NHL preseason is in full swing and nearing its culmination. AHL training camps started earlier this week and ECHL camps begin on Friday. Needless to say, it has been a busy week in hockey. The week got a little busier with the confirmation of USA Hockey’s strategy for putting together a roster for the upcoming Olympics and the announcement of the tournament schedule.

As we at The Hockey Writers theorized in both July and August, the roster for the US men’s team will largely be made up of European-based Americans. Confirmation of that strategy will likely be the last aspect of roster that will be confirmed before the it is announced in early 2018.

Leveling the Playing Field

At the Team USA Media Summit in Park City, Utah, on Monday, men’s head coach Tony Granato partially detailed his philosophy about putting together the roster. Granato was joined by NCAA and former World Junior Championship stars, Jordan Greenway and Troy Terry. While both players are expected to be on the roster if healthy, Granato made it known that the USA squad would dip into the pool of Europeans playing abroad.

Team USA Jordan Greenway
Team USA ice hockey player Jordan Greenway during the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team media summit. (Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)

One reason for this is the depth of availability. While not as large as Canada, the US still has a ton of talent playing in Europe’s top leagues. The other reason is that European-based Americans will be familiar with the larger international ice size.

Sometimes too much is made of the difference in the rink size between the IIHF regulations and the NHL but there are players who benefit from switching things up — these are the type of players the USA will rely upon. They may have had success in the AHL, but could never crack an NHL roster due to the team’s depth or other factors. In the end, their lack of success in holding down an NHL roster spot will be the USA’s gain.

While the US will not have access to their talented NHL players, the tradeoff of talented players who lack recent experience on international ice versus potentially less talented players who are comfortable dealing with the angles and space on the bigger ice surface likely ends up close to a wash. The players that make the USA roster will not have to focus on worrying about changes in the angles for passes off the boards or covering enough ice and being positionally sound on a rink that is 15 feet wider. They can join the other nations in the tournament in not worrying about adjusting to the rink and just focus on playing hockey and winning games.

Setting the Schedule

Also on Monday, the International Ice Hockey Federation announced the schedules for the men’s and women’s ice hockey tournaments at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Things officially kickoff for the US men’s team on Valentine’s Day when they take on Slovenia at 7:10 a.m. EST or 21:10 Korean Standard Time (KST). The preliminary round will continue two days later, with the US facing Slovakia in a game that will take place on Feb. 16 at 12:10 KST, which will be Feb. 15 at 10:10 p.m. EST here in North America. Group play finishes on Saturday, Feb. 17, with another 7:10 a.m. EST (21:10 KST) game as the Americans take on Russia.

The men’s knockout round starts on Wednesday, Feb. 21 with the quarterfinal matches followed by the semifinals  two days later on Feb. 23. Should the US advance to the medal games, they will play in either the Bronze Medal Game on Saturday, Feb. 24, or the Gold Medal Game on Sunday, Feb. 25.