Earlier this month, USA Hockey set their roster for the 2017 Deutschland Cup from Nov. 10-12 in Augsburg, Germany. This roster will largely match the one put together for the 2018 Olympics which will be announced on Jan. 1, 2018. We here at The Hockey Writers have predicted multiple times that the Olympic roster will be stocked with Americans playing in the European leagues. The Deutschland Cup roster all but confirms this.
Of the 29 players set for Germany (15 forwards, 11 defensemen, and three goalies), only two are based in North America: Brian Gionta, a free agent, and Ryan Malone, who is playing for the AHL’s Iowa Wild after two seasons away from professional hockey. The other 27 players come from five different European leagues.
While the NHL won’t release players to participate in the Olympics, that does not mean there will be a lack of NHL experience. Only eight players set for the Deutschland Cup have not played in the NHL and 16 players have previously represented the United States at the men’s senior level, while a total of 21 have represented USA Hockey at any level.
The last time the United States participated in the Deutschland Cup was in 2013 and 11 players on the 2017 roster participated in the 2013 edition. That’s a good core, considering the majority of players have not played together before and the tournament is a quick three games in three days round-robin. Any semblance of continuity will help with team chemistry.
Breaking Down the Tourney
The weakest nation in the tournament, at least according to the IIHF World Ranking, will be Slovakia. The Slovaks are ranked 11th (Germany is eighth) and they will be in the same group as the United States at the Olympics. The US is ranked fifth while Russia is second.
The Russians will also look to use this tournament as a tune-up for the Olympics. Typically, in the second international break, the Russians send a team to the Karjala Tournament, part of the Euro Hockey Tour. While they will still send a team to Finland and use both tournaments as an opportunity to evaluate talent, it’s unclear how strong the team in the German tournament will be.
The Americans have a good chance of being successful in their only tune-up tournament before the Olympics but, more importantly, it will serve as an evaluation of the roster in finding the holes or what areas need improvement that can be filled with the college stars who were unavailable due to their schedules.
The key to the Americans’ success will be their goaltenders. Presumably, the name at the top of the depth chart is David Leggio and it doesn’t hurt that he will be somewhat familiar with the rink and any weird bounces that might occur. His club team, EHC Red Bull München, will visit Augsburg and Curt Frenzel Stadium to take on the Augsburg Panthers a week before the tournament.
With such a short tournament, despite having the numbers for five lines, I expect the combinations to change frequently as the coaching staff treats this both as a competitive environment and as practice. On the backend, the goal will be to find the right mix of offensive skill and defensive prowess. Guys like Johnathon Blum and Ryan Gunderson will be looking to prove they can be relied upon to make a defensive play.
Overall, the outcome of this tournament does and doesn’t matter. You can believe the USA Hockey will want three wins but the staff will be paying attention and wins will not mask any potential issues the team might have. Depending on the level of the team the Russians send to Augsburg, I believe the Americans can win two if not all three games.