Yeah, we get it alright. There are no current NHL players on the United States roster this year, nor for any of the teams competing in PyeongChang. Boo-hoo. Guess what? You will be pleased to know that the USA men’s hockey team is going to be downright fun to watch regardless. They can even do some damage, and make a legitimate run at a medal.
The Americans have not won an Olympic gold since the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” in Lake Placid. They have however taken two silvers – one at the ’02 Salt Lake City Games, and of course more recently the heartbreaker at the ’10 Vancouver Games. Surprisingly enough, since 1980 until present the United States has not won any bronze medals and only the aforementioned silvers. It would appear that situation is about to change in South Korea. The Americans are poised to grab a medal of some color in PyeongChang.
— BC Hockey (@BCHockey) January 1, 2018
This USA team is the most unique roster that the country has assembled for a Winter Olympics. A handful of college kids, and a 32-year-old son of a hockey legend. A first round draft choice who never panned out, and a Stanley Cup champion as their team captain. Three goalies without a minute of NHL experience, and a few guys you have never even heard of. It is the kind of rag-tag hockey team that you cannot help but love. Hockey’s version of the “Bad News Bears”, perhaps.
Without further adieu, THW takes a look at USA’s 25-player roster for the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang:
Ryan Zapolski (Jokerit), Brandon Maxwell (BK Mlada Boleslav), David Leggio (EHC München).
Of the three USA goaltenders Ryan Zapolski is having the best current season. He has played this season and last in the KHL for Jokerit, a team based in Helsinki, Finland. In 38 games here in ’17-’18, Zapolski has posted a 1.73 goals-against average and a excellent .932 save percentage. Definitely one of the best seasons in this 31-year-old’s career. Zapolski played four seasons of NCAA hockey for the Mercyhurst Lakers. While he has never won a major college, professional or international championship, it may be best for the Americans to ride the hot goalie into the start of competition. Zapolski is looking very sharp in the KHL and perhaps that can translate into solid performances in PyeongChang.
David Leggio is the oldest of the trio at 33 years old. The native of Williamsville, NY is known for his extremely quick reflexes. Leggio is not a large goaltender by today’s standards – he is 6-foot and 180 pounds – but his catlike prowess has made him a formidable goalie for many years now. He has played three seasons now in Germany for EHC München. Here in ’17-’18 Leggio has a 2.61 GAA and a .914 SV% in 23 games. Unlike Zapolski, Leggio has won a number of major championships. He has won two DEL (Deutsche Eishockey Liga) Championships in Germany the previous two seasons with München. During his time playing in the SM-liiga – the top hockey league in Finland – he won the championship in 2009-10 with HC TPS. Leggio also won an NCAA Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championship in 2007 while playing for Clarkson University.
Brandon Maxwell is the only one of the three goalies to have been drafted by an NHL team. The Colorado Avalanche selected him in the sixth-round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Maxwell has seemingly tended net anywhere and everywhere. USA, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic and Ukraine. However, he has found his niche playing in the Czech Extraliga for four straight seasons now. Presently with BK Mlada Boleslav, Maxwell a 2.42 GAA and a .920 SV% in 36 games.
It truly is a tossup as to which goalie is your go-to netminder. We are going to go with Leggio. He has the international experience and he has played in the big games. Leggio is a bit more familiar with many of the shooters that USA will be facing in PyeongChang than what Maxwell or Zapolski are. Still, none of the three goalies has clearly distinguished himself as the favorite.
Chad Billins (Linköping HC), Jonathon Blum (Admiral Vladivostok), William Borgen (St. Cloud State Univ.), Matt Gilroy (Jokerit), Ryan Gunderson (Brynäs IF), James Wisniewski (EC Kassel Huskies), Noah Welch (Växjö Lakers HC), Bobby Sanguinetti (HC Lugano).
James Wisniewski has been a very good offensive-defenseman in pro hockey for well more than a decade. Not one of the best, but definitely very good. His finest NHL performance took place not too long ago either. With the 2013-14 Columbus Blue Jackets, Wisniewski potted seven goals and tacked on 44 assists for 51 points in 75 games. Additionally he has also had NHL seasons of 27, 41, and 21 (twice) assists as well. Wisniewski turns 34 near the end of February, but he continues to set up plays and feed pucks from the blueline. It is a guarantee that multiple goals will be coming off of his feeds in PyeongChang.
As big and as hard-nosed as they come, Noah Welch is one of the more punishing defenders for USA. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound D-man was chosen 54th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2001. Welch has been around the game for a long time and is now 35 years old. During the 2014-15 season in the Swedish Elite League (SHL) he led the entire league in penalty minutes with 100 of them in 52 games. Far more importantly though, Welch helped cornerstone the Växjö Lakers HC to becoming SHL Champions that same year. Back with Växjö again this season, his present career totals are 28 goals, 82 assists, 110 points and 521 penalty minutes in 298 SHL games.
Like Wisniewski, Ryan Gunderson is a superb puck mover. What he lacks in size, he more than makes up for in generating offense. Gunderson is small for a defender – just 5-foot-10 and 172 pounds. But since the 2011-12 campaign, he has played five SHL seasons and two KHL seasons. In each of those years his assist totals have never been below 22 in a season. In only 36 games for Brynäs IF this year, Gunderson has put forth four goals and 23 assists for 27 points.
With players like Wisniewski and Gunderson manning the points, USA has a very mobile defense that will both jump into the rush and quarterback scoring chances from the point. The Americans should control the perimeter, and it will be very difficult for opponents to get the puck out of their own zone once USA has it hemmed in.
Jordan Greenway (Boston University), John McCarthy (San Jose Barracuda), Brian O’Neill (Jokerit), Jim Slater (HC Fribourg-Gottéron), Ryan Stoa (Spartak Moskva), Garrett Roe (EV Zug), Chad Kolarik (Adler Mannheim), Broc Little (HC Davos), Ryan Donato (Harvard University), Troy Terry (Univ. of Denver), Brian Gionta (Rochester Americans), Mark Arcobello (SC Bern), Chris Bourque (Hershey Bears), Bobby Butler (Milwaukee Admirals).
Jordan Greenway is an absolute beast on the ice. At 6-foot-6 and nearly 230 pounds, he is a big, big man and he is only 20 years old (he turns 21 on Feb. 16). A second-round choice of the Minnesota Wild in 2015, Greenway is in his junior year at Boston University. This may be his first Winter Games, but it will likely not be his last. His competing in the Olympics is a milestone for hockey in general, as he becomes the first African-American to do so for a USA team. In 104 NCAA games so far at BU, Greenway has scored 24 goals and 58 assists for 82 points. He has also generated 182 penalty minutes from his physical play. That does not mean that Greenway is irresponsible – he has compiled a plus-30 across his three years of college hockey. This young man is truly a force to be reckoned with.
There is no finer captain at the PyeongChang Games than 39-year-old Brian Gionta. Through the duration of his hockey career, he has exemplified the finest qualities in a hockey player. Professionalism, determination, focus, and the ability to invoke these same characteristics in his teammates. Gionta leads by example. He was a member of the 2002-03 New Jersey Devils Stanley Cup win. During the 2005-06 season he scored 48 goals in 82 games, and added on 41 assists to his totals. He has captained both the Montreal Canadiens and the Buffalo Sabres. Now Gionta captains his country. These are his second Olympics – he scored four goals in six games at the ’06 Torino competition. In 1006 NHL regular season games Gionta has totaled 289 goals and 299 assists for 588 points.
One would think that the comparisons could be extremely hard to live up to when your father is one of the greatest defensemen to ever play the game. While Chris Bourque (a forward) has never achieved the status of his legendary father Ray, he has still carved out a very successful hockey career in his own right. The diminutive forward is only 5-foot-7 and around the 170-pound, but his skating ability and work ethic are hard to come by. Bourque has won three AHL Calder Cup championships, all with the Hershey Bears. In fact, he has garnered a bit of a cult status in Hershey. While Bourque has had brief stays with other AHL teams, he has played 588 games for Hershey and has scored 578 points.
The Bottom Line
The biggest question for Team USA is this – who on this roster is going to step to the forefront and take charge? Right now, no player can really be considered the star. That is okay for the time being, as a united, committee approach to the game is capable of working too (think of Lake Placid). But with limited time to gel as a true team, it seems that someone on this roster needs to take the reigns and decide to make a difference right at the start. Jordan Greenway would be an ideal player to do just that.
The other college kids too – Ryan Donato, Troy Terry, and William Borgen – they need to jump up too. These young men are the players who can be true energizers for the Americans. With Gionta giving them pointers and helping to orchestrate the dynamics of this team, look for the four current NCAA players to be the life and light of this team. Terry has been better than a point per game player this season and last at the University of Denver. The Anaheim Ducks likely stole one when they drafted him 148th overall in 2015.
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) February 8, 2018
Goaltending could be tough. Many of the other teams have far more proven commodities than who USA has available in net. No matter which American goalie mans the crease, he will need to be at his finest. USA cannot afford to have any liability in net. Leggio has been around the block a number of times, so that in and of itself adds a calming factor.
This will likely be the last hurrah for Gionta, Welch, Jim Slater, and Wisniewski. Well into their 30s, PyeongChang is one last opportunity to play for victory and give it their all. Like cowboys riding off into the sunset, or aged gunslingers looking for one last-ditch effort.
USA should take the bronze, but could finish as low as fifth.