Tag Archives: Ryan Miller

New York Skate of Mind

Finally, Rangers fans have their razzmatazz back on Broadway, or do they?  News out of training camp created an impeccable look into the metamorphosis of the New York Rangers. Despite a loss to the New Jersey Devils in preseason, the Rangers have an incredible group of players who will overcome any obstacle, particularly if coach Torts has anything to say about it. So why are they sitting last in the division?

Considered by The Hockey News for the Jack Adams award for best coach, John Tortorella won with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, and he will win again. With the cast of talent in New York, the playoff run will surpass the past few season. Filling in the gaps will bring the Rangers the stature the team, Torts and the fans expect from an Original Six team. Fan-fave Sean Avery was given the boot and possibly took the energy with him. While Torts and Avery clashed, the talent on the team now did surpass Avery’s abilities over the long haul.

The New York Rangers paid a pretty penny to secure dominance in the New York market with the addition of Brad Richards. Richards is excited to be playing in New York, but has he been distracted by the huge crowds eyeing his every move? Are the Rangers able to deliver on their preseason prowess or will they find Richards a bust in the Big Apple? Too soon to tell Rangers fans. Let Ryan Callahan lend his captaincy to the cause. The Rangers looked good and they have the tools to do it, eventually.

How about those Buffalo Sabres? Great team concept with Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, Christian Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers, Robyn Regehr and the entire cast of the Sabres who could become the New York team fans are cheering about on Broadway. Ryan Miller’s blueliners are showing more cohesion and so it was planned to stop that gap effectively showcasing Miller’s abilities. Be true Buffalo fans and allow those bandwagon fans to cheer because when was the last time that happened?

Tavares has brought the New York Islanders the franchise player the Island wanted. Not quite the fisherman of yore, but steering the boat nicely. The return of Evgeni Nabokov looks like a nice fit by the confidence in goal against the Rangers over the weekend. With Ricky D out again, anything can happen in net.

Fisherman logo

Islanders Vintage Logo

The New Jersey Devils are close behind with their confidence in their new coach and new system in play. The nagging issue remains in net with Martin Brodeur an iffy healthy mainstay. Johan Hedberg is no slouch. Hedberg served with the Penguins and is familiar with the demands in this division. Look for the Devils to add players as needed- recent rumor for Kyle Turris.

The Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins make this division an enticing race. With Jagr’s return and Sidney Crosby slated to return soon, the Pennsylvania teams will lace up and tighten the race for New York’s teams.

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Summer Hockey Hype

It’s only August and the hype has begun. After the woozying trades and trash, this summer read like more like a gossip column. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were expelled from Philly for bad behavior, LA Kings GM Dean Lombardi  was irked when he was traded damaged goods by Edmonton, and just recently Sean Avery was busted by the cops in Hollywood for shoving an officer.  

If you are sitting by the pool, then you have plenty of time to begin building your fantasy team. Whether you play in a competitive keeper league or drafting an entirely new team, consider the teams who have revamped their lines. However, buyer beware that not all top players perform as well as expected. Duncan Keith’s award-winning 2009-10 season did not carry the same weight in 2010-11. Sidney Crosby’s health is tenuous- one big hit and he could blowout.

Eastern Conference best bets:

New York Rangers- resigning Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan were crucial. Both players have developed their game and are the workhorses of the team. With Brad Richards joining the mix, the Rangers will be a fun team to watch and get behind. With Avery and Brandon Prust, expect some tough guy presence stopping any intruders near Henrik Lundqvist‘s crease.

Philadelphia Flyers– sign Jaromir Jagr. Who knows what to expect? He could be great or gruesome, but you don’t want to be left behind on this one. He snubbed other teams to join the Flyers because of their Cup contention coup. Max Talbot, Claude Giroux and a roster full of hot taletn can be yours if you do your bidding carefully.

Buffalo Sabres- coach Lindy Ruff is still calling the shots on ice, and with newly acquired talents look out. In net, Ryan Miller is one of the best in the NHL. Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr will lend the blueline some direction helping Tyler Myers this season.

Carolina HurricanesJeff Skinner and Anthony Stewart are just two young players to watch in Carolina. Skinner, who won the Calder for rookie of the year, is first line, Stewart 3rd or 4th. Other young talent, Jamie McBain and Chad LaRose need to go on a watch list.

Tampa Bay Lightning– re-signing Steven Stamkos was a necessary requirement before GM Steve Yzerman could go golfing. With Stamkos secured, the Bolts will be out for blood this year. Vinnie Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis may be already drafted, so consider Ryan Malone and Teddy Purcell for a stong support system.

Pittsburgh Penguins- with or without Sidney Crosby, the Pens put the pedal to the metal. All energy, all the time. Kris Letang should be on your list. Tyler Kennedy rocked last year and must be a consideration, same for Chris Kunitz and James Neal.

Boston Bruins– I’d sweep up Dennis Seidenberg. Tim Thomas is an obvious choice, but secured by keeper leagues. If the Stanley Cup win was it, then don’t go overboard with the Bruins. However, there are some good bets here in Rich Peverley, Patrice Bergeron, don’t forget Brad Marchand. I’ve found Shawn Thornton, Andrew Ferrence to be good for fights and scruffy play. Milan Lucic and David Krejci have inconsistent seasons but make good trade fodder.

Western Conference best bets:

Los Angeles Kings-  has a great building process in Hockeywood.  Anze Kopitar will be ready come ice time, and with Mike Richards as the extra kick, look out! Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty are key defensemen. Jonathan Quick in goal is a great pick. Captain Dustin Brown didn’t let me down. Justin Williams was the sought after Kings player in our league rightly so.

Detroit Red Wings– always on the list due to the talent they foster. Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Nick Lidstrom are tops on any list if you can get them. Goaltender Jimmy Howard may be a task to acquire but worth if you can make a trade after the season starts- sell low. Johan Franzen and defensemen Niklas Kronwall should be noted for scoring and hits.

Vancouver Canucks– they just couldn’t wrap it up, but that has been their issue. Lessons learned may help Ryan Kesler and the Sedins in creative ways to win. Consider Alex Burrows, Kevin Bieksa and don’t be wary of goalie Roberto Luongo if you can get him.

Edmonton Oilers– I say this because the whole world will be watching the Taylor Hall/Ryan Nugent-Hopkins dynamic. Grab either player and be patient. Hall took some time to warm up and was passed all over fantasy leagues as owners became restless with his growing pains.

Chicago Blackhawks “Car Bomb”Carcillo  will explode in Chicago enforcing the Hawks second revival. This is a tough team who wants the Cup badly. Patrick Sharp is signed and you should do the same. He’s a quiet player who has his ups and downs, but delivers overall. If you can acquire Patrick Kane of Jonathan Toews, then work your magic. Andrew Brunette is a watch list candidate to see if he can generate something.

St. Louis Blues– I pick them every year due to the talent that passes through. Chris Stewart stands out for the Blues. David Backes is a sturdy candidate but can be unpredictable. Kevin Shattenkirk,Alex Steen and Andy McDonald did well last season and are good choices in the second to third-round. Remember to put Alex Pietrangelo on your list as a stellar young defenseman, and keep an eye on Matt D’Agostini.

Don’t see your team? Oh, well, take a look at some of the choice picks to find your best bet:

Logan Couture (San Jose Sharks)– The Sharks can beat the Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs, but can’t seem to get further than that. Couture was nominated for the rookie of the year and deservedly so. Grab him before someone else does. Usually a second-round pick now that he’s on the radar.

Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars)– Benn broke out last year and was quite dutiful to fantasy owners. If he lands in your queue, consider if you need a productive 3rd liner.

Devin Setoguchi (Minnesota Wild) – great during the playoffs with the Sharks. Minnesota has been on everyone’s radar to be big but remains in the middle. Perhaps Setoguchi can spark some oomph.

Your dream team is in your hands. Not all goes as according to plan and your backup choices can make the difference in all areas from trades to suspensions of a key player. Study the new and improved rosters if you haven’t been keeping up with the transactions this summer.

Let the playoffs begin…

Congratulations to the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, who won the Frozen Four Saturday. It’s the first national championship in men’s hockey for the Bulldogs beating Michigan in overtime, 3-2.

Despite Michigan’s loss, Michiganders still have hope as the Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs as the third seed in the West. Let’s look at the playoff pairings in the Western Conference:

#1 Vancouver vs. #8 Chicago
The Blackhawks eked in from a Dallas loss and will face the winner of the Presidents’ Trophy. Goaltending in Vancouver will be difficult to diffuse as Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider took home the Jennings Trophy for goaltending tandem. Beyond that, the Hawks have their work cut out with Daniel Sedin securing the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer with 104 pts.  The Canucks have an opportunity to win big in the first-round edging closer to the Cup. Chicago has tough talent but has not been as steady through injuries and malaise. The Hawks could make it tough for the Canucks, but Chicago has lost their Mojo. Canucks should wrap up the series, 4-2.

#2 San Jose vs. #7 Los Angeles-
One of the best matchups in the playoffs. A must watch, especially for California viewers. Three teams from the Golden State have made it in illustrating the shift in power from the East to the West. The Sharks are at it again and seem more relaxed as they enter yet another playoff fun. The Kings are a tough crew with some awesome talent who are fun to watch. San Jose players who have upped their game include Ryan Clowe and Logan Couture who have given the Sharks some needed energy. The Sharks look poised this year. The Kings could be a spoiler, but still have some maturing to do. And without Anze Kopitar, the rest of the gang will surely fire back. Sharks could surprise the Kings with a sweep. The question is can Kings goalie Quick maintain his namesake in the series?

#3 Detroit vs. #6 Phoenix-
So many Coyotes fans are from Detroit. The Yotes have something to prove and could be a nasty pest for the Wings. Phoenix fans are pumped for the playoffs. Wings fans are confident, but without Zetterberg in the first game fans are concerned. Depth is key here- the Coyotes have played very well this year, while Detroit has had their ups and downs. Wings will take the series but Phoenix will fight and make it tight. Goaltending is a factor. Bryzgalov and Howard must play the best games of their lives to move on and both are capable. Tight race but Wings move on.

#4 Anaheim vs. #5 Nashville-
It’s the Nashville curse- they get in and lose. Anaheim has struggled but have dynamic players in Cory Perry, the winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer with his 50 goals. The Ducks are fighters and are scrappy. With home-field advantage, the Ducks could easily wipe out the Preds. Perry, Bobby Ryan, Cam Fowler and Ryan Getzlaf will score. Energetic play will keep this series one to watch. Too close to call, but Anaheim has more oomph to take control.

The Eastern Conference is looking extremely tough:

#1 Washington vs. #8 New York Rangers
A must watch for anyone. Ovechkin meets Lundqvist is a slice of heaven for any hockey fan. Washington has not done well in past Stanley Cup runs, but then New York wiped out last year against the Caps despite leading the series. This series will go down to the wire.

#2 Philadelphia vs. #7 Buffalo-
Philly rocked last year and could be heading to the Cup finals if they can hold on. Buffalo has fought to stay in the hunt. Goaltender Ryan Miller has to be top-notch to get past the Flyers. Flyers’ goaltending has been a revolving door. Great playoff history between these two teams will give this series some bite. The Flyers can win if the goaltending is stable and can beat Miller.

#3 Boston vs. #6 Montreal-
Can’t even begin to describe the fierceness of this rivalry, plus the animosity with the Chara-Pacioretty incident. A healing game on some level, but anyone’s game at this point. Price and Thomas are excellent in net, so grab a beer and pop some popcorn for this double-feature. This one will go to the end. Fighting is likely.

#4 Pittsburgh vs. #5 Tampa Bay-
Without Crosby and Malkin, the Pens have really shown the depth of their bench and that usually wins games. Staal, Talbot and Kennedy will continue the play that has kept them in the hunt. Tampa Bay lacks some playoff experience; however, with Martin St. Louis and Steve Yzerman as elder statesmen the Lightning will make the series tight. Yet, another good exhibition of players and punch and will come down to the wire if the Pens can keep it tight. Tampa Bay can do it if they shut down the Pens momentum.  Fleury is experienced and Roloson pulls out the stops.

Great games ahead and refreshing teams that have made it into the rotation make this year’s Stanley Cup run a must see.  Complete disappointment in Denver though. The Colorado Avalanche tanked this year after a good start. Recently, I saw Kevin Porter and Kyle Quincey on the day of Adam Foote’s retirement and they looked like someone had died. The loss of their captain in a losing year is a bummer. Better luck next year to all the teams who are heading to the golf course.

Nudges and Nets

Vancouver’s Raffi Torres scored a hat-trick against the Oilers, and defenseman Kevin Bieksa made a dent in the stats with three assists. The Canucks have come out of their fog rising in the standings and taking control in the Northwest.

And so it goes for Ed Jovanovski, a hat trick too. Despite the Coyotes successful season last year, there are some struggles in Phoenix with low attendance. Arguments range from the desert to lack of ownership. I’d say both. There are plenty of transplants in the Phoenix area that love their hockey, but they stand behind their original home teams if their new home team can’t win. Also, games are expensive and if the team is losing, then why spend so much? Really, if the NHL is a show, then the residents in Arizona would rather watch a sunset.

Joe Thornton had a misconduct call with the St. Louis Blues when he hit David Perron leaving the penalty box. Joe says it ain’t so, and claims it was not intentional, but the NHL is being overly cautious with these hits. Makes sense to encourage sportsmanship on the ice, but these are big guys who skate on ice at great speed bound to run into each other. Or maybe the players are frustrated and taking it out on everyone they can. It is a weird season. Notice how the Blues are steadily climbing up the ranks?

The Rangers are making headway edging Boston in the East. And Atlanta is cooking up some good players and some good hockey. They aren’t a joke anymore. Pittsburgh and Toronto are slipping. Buffalo has tanked with Ryan Miller out and now on IR and Tyler Myers suffering.

Colorado goaltender, Craig Anderson, is out leaving Peter Budaj to stop the pucks. Anderson should be back in a week, but until then the Avs are holding up under the pressure.

But saving the best for last, Detroit is back. Motown has been resurrected. Hockeytown prevails. It’s a tough division this year, so any week on top is a good week. Never mind one loss to Vancouver; it’s the long haul that counts.

Who has the right moves? A summer guide to fantasy hockey

The NHL Entry Draft and July 1 dealing deadlines have mixed the 30 NHL teams into goulash. Yes, it’s a good thing, yet trying to make sense of your fantasy roster next year, could prove enlightening as much research needs to be done. There are many building blocks required to match the force of a Stanley Cup contending teams, but like kids in a candy store agents, players, and managers are gobbling up their sweet deals for next season’s ice time.

I’m already preparing my teams and ranking players for my leagues, and poking around rosters. Should be out in the sun, but the hot weather has me thinking of ice and snow to cool down.

Chicago isn’t the same team that stepped onto the ice last year. Taking out some top players is asking your top guns to perform with more gusto, as Toews, Keith, Sharp and company should be playing hard. If you can get them, get them.

The Western Conference exhibited some dominance last year, and they will continue. The Eastern Conference needs to bulk up and find some identities. These teams are on my radar:

Eastern Conference:

New Jersey Devils- Hedberg backing Brodeur sounds good to me. I hope Hedberg sees some ice time, because Marty needs to rest. The Devils should be able to kick it into the Cup finals with Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, David Clarkson and a whole host of good options for your team. When in doubt, go toward the Devils.

Buffalo Sabres– Tyler Myers and Ryan Miller are top fantasy draft choices. Myers was rookie of the year winning the Calder Memorial Trophy, and Miller taking home the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender. But is this enough? Don’t draft too deep into the Sabres bench because everyone scored equally.

Atlanta Thrashers– are in serious building efforts as the landlords realize more effort must be made in the quality of their brick and mortar. Taking Andrew Ladd and Dustin Bufyglien from the Blackhawks was just plain smart. Ladd has quietly worked his way into scoring zones over the past two seasons. He’s the guy who creeps into fantasy teams due to injured wingers, and for the last push of the season. Dustin B. needs no introduction; he is a slayer who can deliver with his bulk and intellect because hockey is both mental and physical.

Tampa Bay Lightning- Steve Yzerman is all I can say. He’s golden. Piling on the players to pay the piper, the new GM knows his hockey both on the ice and off under the leadership of the Illitch family, who created a dynasty both adored and despised. That’s some power. Nittymaki is a good fantasy goalie option, and Martin St. Louis goes early. Steven Stamkos has won me over his second season matching Sidney Crosby is goals.

Western Conference:

Colorado Avalanche
– youth movement continues to catch all. The Avalanche must continue to play at the top of their game. When they sat in the top three in the West, critics said the team couldn’t keep the momentum and they didn’t. Striving to make the playoffs kept fans on their toes and gives Colorado a head start for next season.  Avalanche players that are must-haves include Matt Duchene, Craig Anderson, Paul Stastny and Chris Stewart. Other players are excelling quickly and depth in the Avs means depth for your rotation needs.

St. Louis Blues
– they looked so rough last year, but great the year before. Now, with a few bells and whistles in goal gaining Jaroslav Halak’s contract for a steal, the Blues continued their rally by securing forward Alex Steen on the roster. Steen is a breakout player who could boost the Blues. Alex Steen will be on my fantasy roster. The guy is solid. Halak is tops too.

Edmonton Oilers
– not because they have a chance at the Cup, but I want to see Tyler Hall play in the NHL. I want to see if the Oilers can do what the Islanders are still holding onto. Take a look at videos of Hall placing the puck in net: Ovechkin like but more humble. Draft Hall.

Vancouver Canucks
– has taken over the San Jose Sharks pick for me next year. While I’m curious to see how the Sharks unfold with the new Nittymaki agenda, I turn my head toward the border and offer up Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and the Sedins to the hockey gods. Luongo is a stretch, yet could remold into his former self this season.

Phoenix Coyotes
– Coach of the year,Dave Tippett, is tipping the team in the right direction. And my Petr Prucha posts get a lot of hits on my blog. Wolski, Yandle, no shortage of talent. Shane Doan, super nice guy, disappointed a bit last season. Goaltending is not a problem with Bryzgalov.

Other notables getting a nod:
Los Angeles Kings– love the Johnson-Doughty thing they got going on there. Bordering on the Cinderella team last season, the young Kings have some great abundance to flaunt with all the California hockey hype during the NHL Entry Draft. Good options for fantasy streaks.

Nashville Predators
– adding Matthew Lombardi is a good move in not only points, but he’s a bright spot for you face-off category ranking among the top five usually.  You just have to love this line-up and wonder what is happening out there? Well, they are good but have met opponents that are better. Look at Shea Weber for certain. A lot of great options on this team not to be overlooked by your management staff.

Rewards at the NHL awards

The NHL awards were held Wednesday in Las Vegas Wednesday. No surprises really, just a typical nice guy awards show without much hoopla despite the opening by Snoop Dogg.

The Calder Memorial Trophy:  Tyler Myers

Tyler Myers was an amazing rookie. I grabbed him as a free agent on both of my fantasy teams and was praising the guy all year. He wasn’t the Sabre player I expected to be the breakout candidate but his tenacity and wandering defense make him tops on my list. He clocked the most ice time of any Sabres player

Frank J. Selke Trophy: Pavel Datsyuk

The best defensive forward, no duh. Can he do anything wrong? He was criticized for the lackluster performance for the Red Wings, but he took off and kept the playoffs in reach. Can’t deny his talents and lasting abilities for the Wings franchise.

Ted Lindsay Award- Alex Ovechkin

The more Alex speaks, the more I like his nonchalant attitude. He kept talking despite the music, the next presenter and cues to leave the stage. Alex doesn’t care and wants his time because he’s earned it.

Jack Adams Award-Dave Tippett

This was a well-deserved award to the head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, who turned this group around with the vision to create a playoff team. The Coyotes have been decent in recent years, but lacked the leadership to take it to the next level. With the ownership and attendance woes in the desert, the players played with heart and determination to make the team noticeable.

Vezina Trophy-Ryan Miller
Ryan Miller fans that believed he was the best goaltender at the winter games felt losing the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics was a blow. Miller knows he’s that good but is humble. He’s the best of the best.

Bill Masterston Memorial Trophy-Jose Theodore
With 23 straight games unbeaten, Theodore somehow flew under the radar on some fantasy teams. But not mine. Theodore has had a few bumpy years of play and personal tragedy that made this award a confirmation to his ability to maintain composure in net. Most of us would have completely checked out.

King Clancy Memorial Trophy- Shane Doan

Leadership on and off the ice, and just a nice guy landed Doan this award. I met Doan outside of Coyotes practice signing autographs with his son. Mothers love him because he is involved in the community and cares about the children and their growth. Fans love him because he cares for their community.

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy -Martin St. Louis
It’s about time St. Louis won this recognition as the epitome of sportsmanship. Hard worker, solid numbers and great attitude make St. Louis a fantastic fantasy pick for you roster but get him quick.

Mark Messier Leadership award- Sidney Crosby

This is a new award and is evidence of how well Messier’s internship with the Rangers has influence the NHL. Any openings? Is Messier passing on his magic to Crosby or does Messier want some of Crosby’s magic?

Norris Trophy- Duncan Keith
Since the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, I’m not surprised with this pick. Any player who sacrifices seven teeth during the Cup run should get something big!

Hart Memorial Trophy-Henrik Sedin
Tough competition here- Ovechkin and Crosby. The Swede walked away with the prize and kudos for the great year that the Vancouver Canucks had.

Rafalski, Miller Torque Team USA

No one expected Team USA to be at the top of their group, nor be a medal contender, but the Cinderella team are one step closer to the ultimate Vancouver souvenir.  In a shocking upset, Team USA reclaimed some hockey pride by beating the Canadian team on home ice.   Team USA’s youth has sparked the adventurous spirit of what the American team want to showcase. Though the average age of Team USA is 26.6, lack of experience and youth has proven to be a mute argument.  With such amazing performances by Zach Parise who had two goals in the match-up with Switzerland, or the tenacious puck play of Dustin Brown, the sheer mettle of taking on the powerhouse Canada and breaking the bank to top Group A has stunned hockey fans globally.

But the true heart of any hockey team can be found in leadership from between the pipes and on the blue line.  The Canadians knew that a behemoth of a goaltender could revive their team, and it did. Canada has been quick to regroup after the loss to the Americans, replacing goaltender Martin Brodeur with Canucks captain Roberto Luongo.

Not only is Team USA’s goaltender Ryan Miller one of the biggest contributors to the team’s success, but also this is his Olympic debut.  At the age of 29, Miller has the youth, but he brings wisdom and wile to the competition.

Ryan Miller has been stellar and faced quick shots at a furious pace.  Miller faced 45 shots by the Canadians and held 42. Facing 19 shots from the Swiss, Miller took hold and delivered the shutout.  His level headed play was evident at his alma mater, Michigan State, where the Michigan native set an NCAA record with 26 career shutouts.  In 2001, Miller’s talent was showcased with the leading winning percentage, save percentage (.950) goal against average and a record 10 shootouts over all other players in the country, thus snagging the coveted college hockey Hobey Baker Award.  Ryan took the Goaltender of the Year for all three seasons at Michigan State and was the CCHA’s overall MVP twice.

Growing up in East Lansing, Michigan, you’d think Ryan would look at exciting options to play away from home, but not the case.  Michiganders love their hockey and Ryan’s family is no exception.  Brother Drew now plays for the Detroit Red Wings, plus ten members of his family, including his grandfather, all played for the Michigan State Spartans.  In 1990 his cousin, Kip Miller also won the Hobey Baker and was the first Spartan to be honored.  Hockey royalty perhaps, but Ryan never lets his prestigious genetics blur his ability to reign supreme in net.

Michigan is also the home to a defenseman who has rallied the troops, Brian Rafalski. At age 36, Rafalski is the oldest player on the team providing leadership yet so much more.  With four goals and four assists, Detroit Red Wings’ Brian Rafalski leads in scoring for Team USA.  In a mesmerizing match-up between Canada and the USA, Rafalski’s blue line demeanor broke through to score two goals and nab an assist.  The unexpected fury came and this American boy was not going to lose.

Rafalski, the veteran Olympian, was on hand during the 2002 games in Salt Lake City winning a silver medal, as well as playing at the 2006 games in Torino.  Vancouver marks his third Olympic appearance.  His presence may have led the charge in Team USA’s success.  Rafalski has always been a quiet player, not ostentatious with his style, but a classic American citizen and family man.  He is also no stranger to fighting for what he wants, as he struggled to find his place in the world of hockey.

Rafalski, born in Dearborn, Michigan, took his hockey talent to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he played for four years.  His senior year, Brian netted 45 points in 43 games.  The WCHA named Rafalski to their First All-Star Team, plus he was named to the NCAA West All-Star Team, as well as the WCHA Defenseman of the Year in 1995.

Though he has come back to his birth state and found a home with the Detroit Red Wings, it wasn’t always that easy for Brian.  He struggled throughout the years being bounced from teams, countries but always playing as a winner.  He won a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2008.  Despite a discouraging season this year with the Detroit Red Wings, Rafalski is having a good year with 4 goals and 25 assists.  Look for more firepower from this defenseman when he returns from the Vancouver no matter the outcome.

If Team USA is victorious, then American hockey will gain some respect and prove to be a formidable training ground for future players.  If Team USA can’t clinch the prize, then the players can say they fought the good fight and proved American hockey is for real.   No one can overlook the exceptional effort of goaltender Ryan Miller and defenseman Brian Rafalski leading the charge to battle for Gold.

NHL Talent of Team USA

You’d think because Team USA won the World Junior Championship that the Olympic team would be rated better than they are. Perhaps the hype over hockey south of the border was a passing fancy, and the true champions of the sport reside in the frozen tundra of Canada, Russia and Sweden who are all ranked before us for Gold in Vancouver.

Sure, Canada has Sidney Crosby, Russia has Ovechkin and the Swedes have brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin.  Team USA has plenty of talent that is apparently being cast in fourth with no medal.  Interesting to watch for international fans, the players from the Home of the Brave are facing lowered expectations that they can accomplish the feat to bring home a medal.

Starting goaltender for the US will be Buffalo Sabres Ryan Miller who has had an outstanding year with a record of 29-14-6 including against teams with Crosby, Ovechkin and the Sedins.  Miller has the best GAA rating among all the starting goalies with a 2.01, as well as his save percentage at .936%.  He’s had hit a rough patch recently, but he leads with 27 shutouts.  If he can’t stop a puck then Team USA can start worrying.

Both Los Angeles King Jonathan Quick and Boston Bruin Tim Thomas will back Miller in the net.  Quick has had an outstanding year leading the Kings into a comfortable spot in the Western Conference, which no one anticipated.  Quick holds a 34-17-3 record having won in his last two meetings with the heavily loaded Swedish Detroit Red Wings.

Thomas has had a tough time with the ailing Bruins and a record of 13-15-7.  Controversial goaltender selections brewed over the selection of Quick and Thomas over the hotshot of the Colorado Avalanche, Craig Anderson.

Defending the net will be a chore for the Americans as they face some physical players from Russia and Sweden.  Detroit Red Wing defenseman Brian Rafalski will lead the charge with previous Olympic experience.  Rafalski’s resume is impressive with three Stanley Cups and two Olympics, winning Silver in 2002.  But Rafalski doesn’t wander from the blue line with the intent of scoring except for setting up for the assist so he’ll have pressure to lead the inexperienced players and play more aggressively.

The Johnson boys, St. Louis Blues Erik Johnson and LA King Jack Johnson will debut in Vancouver both displaying a work ethic that impressed the US selection panel.  Nashville Predator Ryan Suter will most likely be in the starting line-up with his strong play. Rounding out the healthy participants is Pittsburgh Penguins’ Brooks Orpik whose youth will be either an energetic positive addition or an inexperienced bad experiment. Orpik has experience playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, which could prove to be beneficial against Canada and Russia.

Two of the defensemen, New Jersey Devil Paul Martin and Toronto Maple Leaf Mike Komisarek are reported to be unlikely to play, and will need to be replaced due to injuries.  Martin is still holding out hope he could be ready by February 15th.  Possible replacements rumored have included Carolina Hurricanes’ Tim Gleason; Ryan Whitney of the Anaheim Ducks; Pittsburgh Penguins’ Alex Goligoski; and from the Atlanta Thrashers, Ron Hainsey or Zach Bogosian.

Putting pressure on the scoring line, only Chris Drury and Jamie Langenbrunner have Olympic games to back up their insight for their team.  New York Rangers’ Drury won Silver in 2002, while New Jersey’s Langenbrunner played in Nagano in 1998 with no medal.  Drury has been a bust this season and has disappointed in points, but has been able to be a leader.  Langenbrunner’s Devils have held on tight in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference sitting in second behind Washington and Ovi.

The list of forwards consists of what The Hockey News calls, “youth over experience.”

David Backes of the St. Louis Blues has steadily climbed his way into the limelight, for better or for worse.  Critics say he isn’t all that, but Backes has posted 34 points and 77 penalty minutes this season.  His strength is scoring, while his weakness is fighting.

Dustin Brown of the LA Kings has 40 points this season and 22 penalty minutes.  He is one reason the Kings have been able to dazzle the NHL and are holding steady for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Ryan Callahan’s debut on Broadway keeps outdoing each performance for the New York Rangers.  He’s on par to surpass last season’s scoring, and he’s been heating up lately despite the Rangers lack of pizzazz in the playoff hunt.  Expect Callahan to take the charge.

Patrick Kane is out of all the wingers, an anticipated star on the roster for crowds.  Playing for the talented young Chicago Blackhawks, Kane has emerged with 64 points this year and a plus 17 rating.  He’s good and doesn’t make mistakes.

Phil Kessel’s career in the NHL has matured into more scoring and less penalties.  Though his team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, may not be anywhere near a playoff contender Kessel keeps his play as if he were.

Joe Pavelski is as even on goals and assists as ying is to yang.  Pavelski makes his home with the San Jose Sharks and adds additional depth to the point machine of the Western Conference.

Ryan Kesler was a must have last year for fantasy hockey owners, so this year he was scooped up quickly. His presence in Vancouver was the secret ingredient for the Canucks.  Though he won’t be traveling far, this will benefit the US with one less jetlagged player.

Paul Stastny had an opportunity to play for Canada or Slovakia, but good for Team USA to have the commitment from this Colorado Avalanche assistant captain.  Stastny will draw international interest and hopefully draw plays towards the net.

Ryan Malone is a fantasy hockey owner’s dream with 42 points and 57 penalty minutes (if you’re in PIM leagues). The Tampa Bay Lightning knew Malone was something special and he’s proven he can keep up the points.

Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils is one player that was a must to represent the USA, though he sports a Canadian bloodline.  Parise is the second leading scorer for the Devils and synonymous with the new energy of the team.  It shows in their fiery style of play.  Teammate Jamie Langenbrunner will lend some helpful advice.

Bobby Ryan ignites his style with the Anaheim Ducks.  Ryan tallied 45 points and 57 penalty minutes so far this season.  Let’s just hope he scores rather than scraps.

Youth over experience could leave Team USA into overdrive. But beware; the lack of experience could be costly when confronted with players with more skill, more exposure and more scoring.  Mistakes can be costly with these high stakes, but it’s a great opportunity for these young NHL stars to be recognized as our team, Team USA.