by NICKOLAUS SUGAI
Far removed from their 1994 Junior Goodwill Games gold medal, the core of the Team USA hockey team remain intact. They return 13 of their 14 original players, the lone exception being Kenny Wu, who is a favorite to take the gold in the individual men’s figure skating event at Iceberg Skating Palace.
With 13 previous gold medal winners, 8 of them being Minnesota State Pee Wee Hockey champions, Team USA hockey coach, Dan Bylsma has his hands full trying to select the starting six for the red, white and blue.
This is no contest. While traditional starter, Greg Goldberg offers Bylsma continuity, he should have never been given the start over Julie “The Cat” Gaffney. Sure, Goldberg posted a .44 SV% and went 6-1 as a starter, but Gaffney’s quick hands has earned her the title of best college prospect in the country. If she doesn’t get ejected in the first Iceland v. USA game, there’s no way the Vikings put 12 goals on the scorecard.
Goldberg’s affinity toward the Philadelphia Flyers is also prone to rub Bylsma the wrong way. His skating ability is sub-par, even for a goalie, and his most recent run in with the law is sure to give the Russian home crowd tons of taunting material.
Gaffney’s glove side save of tournament MVP Gunnar Stahl is still considered one of the most clutch in the game, even though she won’t have Gordan Bombay to advise her if a certain player likes to play fancy or not, she still gives Team USA the most stalwart defense against a Canadian offensive barrage.
International hockey calls for good skaters, especially on the defensive side. The dead-puck era is long gone and both defensive skaters need to equally possess an offensive mindset. While many Team USA homers will immediately call for team captain Charlie Conway, his numbers don’t play well to his defense. Over 6 games in the Junior Goodwill Games, he scored 1 point on 1 assist. Hardly stats to warrant a start when he’ll be skating against Sidney Crosby and Alex Oveckin.
Jesse Hall cut his teeth playing hockey in the mean streets of Minneapolis, which is the hockey equivalent of Carmelo Anthony perfecting his mid-range shot in Red Hook, Brooklyn. A converted winger, he’s the only player on the Team USA roster who can lead the “Flying V”, stop a Russian triple deke AND sneak into a Beverly Hill’s fashion boutique.
With Hall playing both ways, Team USA’s need for a true enforcer leaves Bylsma with the choice between Fulton Reed and Dean Portman. Reed’s a much improved skater from his rollerblading around the Mall of America days and Dean Portman’s sheer size will match up well against the bigger bodies in Sochi. Still, with Big Ice in play, speed and offense will be at a paramount, Reed’s heavy slapshot is sure to give teams like Slovenia and Finland problems.
With gold medal favorites Russia and Canada loaded with finesse players, Team USA needs to find the right balance to combat rosters loaded with NHL talent. Based on point totals from the Junior Goodwill Games, the scoring leaders with 3 points each are Adam Banks, Connie Moreau, Kenny Wu, Fulton Reed, Luis Mendoza, Guy Germaine and Dwayne Robertson. Banks probably run aways with the scoring title if healthy, his fractured wrist robbed him of two games. Since Wu is pre-occupied with landing a quad-salchow to a Lorde remix and Reed already holding one blue line down, that leaves Mendoza, Germaine, Robertson and Moreau.
Adam Banks 6 GP 2 G 1 A 3 P
Connie Moreau 7 GP 2 G 1 A 3 P
Kenny Wu 7 GP 2 G 1 A 3 P 2 PIM
Fulton Reed 7 GP 1 G 2 A 3 P 2 PIM
Luis Mendoza 7 GP 1 G 2 A 3 P
Guy Germaine 7 GP 0 G 3 A 3 P
Dwayne Robertson 7 GP 0 G 3 A 3 P 2 PIM
Russ Tyler 2 GP 2 G 0 A 2 P
Dean Portman 7 GP 1 G 0 A 1 P 14 PIM
Lester Averman 7 GP 1 G 0 A 1 P
Charlie Conway 6 GP 0 G 1 A 1 P
Jesse Hall 7 GP 0 G 1 A 1 P
Mendoza is scary fast and although he’s a natural left-winger, he can play switch and cut hard from the right. He starts. Robertson’s puck handling skills might dazzle the highlight reel but he’s still remembered most for his “roping” penalty in the Goodwill Games. Moreau’s scoring is nice, but Mendoza and Banks need service to be effective. Look for Guy Germaine to start opposite of Mendoza, while the other two come off the bench providing a nice change of pace.
Russ Tyler, the mid season acquisition from Los Angeles is a tricky case. His skating skills were learned from rollerblading the Venice blacktop but he doesn't posses the technical skills to play in both sides of the puck.
Adam Banks is by far the most talented and complete player on the roster. In an era where we can determine the next Lionel Messi in someone’s sperm pool. Banks has been heralded as one of the bests since his youth days. Easily the most talented player for the Hawks, the re-zoning of District 5 caused a swing so dramatic, he took an 0-11 Mighty Ducks team to an undefeated Minnesota State Pee Wee Championship run. He was also the only Duck to make the Varsity team at Eden Hall Prep in his freshman year. Banks self-prophetic move of rocking the #99 his whole career was bold. Odds are that he puts Team USA on his back to earn a medal in Sochi.
We may not see a intermission uniform change like we did in the Junior Goodwill Games as Olympic policy forbids wearing colors outside of your designated national ones, but we're definitely in store for an unpredictable and exciting medal games.