Tha Sports Junkies 101

Why Team USA can win the World Cup

Tha Sports Junkies 101-Sports News Neon Tommy/via


On Saturday, Sept. 17, the World Cup of Hockey will make its return after a 12-year absence. As you’ve read hereTeam Canada is the favorite to win it as they did in 2004, the last time the tournament was held. Team Sweden is the other popular pick to win it.

Don’t count out Team USA, though. In fact, they could be the sleeper pick in this year’s tournament.

While they may not have the depth of talent and skill that Canada has, the US still has a team that can do damage offensively.

Patrick Kane, last season’s leading scorer in the NHL, will be looked at to lead Team USA on the offensive front. Kane is coming off a career-year in the league, establishing career highs in goals (46), assists (60), and points (106). It was his fifth season of at least 27 goals.

Joe Pavelski, Zach Parise, and Max Pacioretty are players have can put the puck in the back of the net, as well. All three guys have had at least four 30-goal seasons in the NHL.

If these four forwards are on their game and get hot during the tournament, that means good news for Team USA. In the two pre-tournament games against Canada this past weekend, only Pacioretty was unable to find the score sheet. The other three combined for three goals and six points in the two games.

However, they’re not the only one who can put up goals. Guys like Ryan Kesler, James van Riemsdyk, Blake Wheeler, and David Backes have had multiple seasons of 25 or more goals during their NHL careers. If that group helps contribute, the US will be hard to beat.

During the 2014 Winter Olympics, Team USA was the highest scoring team going into the semifinals, averaging five goals a game. Nine of the 14 forwards from that team are on this year’s World Cup roster, so they’ve shown they can get put the puck in the net.

Their defensive group is also one that can chip in on the offensive side of the puck.

Dustin Byfuglien is the American version of Canada’s Brent Burns. A former forward, Byfuglien is a big body that can skate and has good offensive instincts.

The 6’5″ Minnesota native has scored 50+ points four times in his career. Like Burns, Byfuglien loves to join the rush and acts like a fourth forward at times in the offensive zone. He did a good job of that during the 4-2 win Team USA had against Canada last Friday.

Ryan Suter and John Carlson are two other American defensemen that have had 50+ points in a season and can help the offense. Suter is one of the best blue liners at starting a breakout and Carlson can also join the rush with ease.

While Team USA has real good offensive possibilities, probably the biggest reason for why they can win the World Cup is the defensive capabilities this team has.

Head coach John Tortorella stresses strong defense and shot blocking, and the US has players that don’t mind getting their hands dirty and sacrificing their bodies to keep the puck out of the net.

Kesler and Backes are two of the NHL’s best defensive centers and have no problem matching up against another team’s top line. They are also very good at getting in shooting lanes and having their sticks in passing lanes.

Despite being two of the smaller forwards on Team USA, Pavelski and Parise are intense competitors and are real good at hounding the puck.

Wheeler, Brandon Dubinsky, and Derek Stepan are some of the other forwards that are responsible defensively, as well.

On the back end, Ryan McDonagh is one of the NHL’s best shutdown defenseman and probably the US’ best at doing that job. Byfuglien and Suter, apart from providing offense, also play a strong defensive game and can go up against a team’s top offensive line. All three of them can also log big minutes and play in any defensive situation.

 Jack and Erik Johnson are big bodies that can also play shutdown defense and dish out some big hits in the process.

Behind those guys are three of the NHL’s best between the pipes, which is Team USA’s biggest strength.

Jonathan Quick, Ben Bishop, and Cory Schneider can all take over a game, keep their team in a game, and frustrate an opponent.

Quick showed that in Friday’s game against Canada, holding the Canadians to just one goal on 33 shots in two periods of work. That performance should solidify his spot as the No. 1 goalie for the tournament.

Everyone who follows hockey knows that a hot goalie can carry you far in a short tournament like this one. All three US goalies have the capability to get hot over a six, seven game stretch and backstop their team to victories.

The key for Team USA to be successful defensively will be to play together as a five-man unit, especially against highly offensive teams like Canada. They showed that in their game on Friday.

Despite getting quality chances and controlling most of the play, the Canadians were only able to get two goals on 43 shots. The US did a good job of blocking shots and not turning the puck over in that game.

Another strength Team USA has is its physical strength. The Americans are one of the biggest teams in the tournament. 13 of the 20 skaters are 6’1″ or bigger and the average weight of the team is just under 209.5 lbs.

They have the size to play a very physical, in-your-face type of game and play it well. In fact, they will probably be the most physical team in the tournament. That can benefit them by wearing a team’s defensemen down during a game and forcing turnovers in the offensive and neutral zones, which can create offensive opportunities.

They displayed some of that physicality on Friday and it gave them positive results.

The one thing Team USA does need to be careful with, though, is not being overly physical to the point where it gets them in penalty trouble. That was their downfall on Saturday in their rematch with Canada.

The US were shorthanded eight times in the game, with the Canadians scoring three power-play goals en route to a 5-2 win.

Team USA will have one more dress rehearsal before the tournament starts when they play Team Finland on Tuesday night (7 pm ET; ESPN, SN1, TVAS). One would expect to see a lineup that will probably closely resemble the one that will hit the ice when they play their first game of the World Cup on Saturday.

While we may not yet know how the lineup while look on opening night, we do know that this team was built with one objective in mind: beating Canada. They showed us the formula on how to do so on Friday.

If they can repeat that performance at least three more times during the tournament, they will win their first major tournament since the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. The pieces are there to do so, it’s just a matter of producing on the ice when it matters.