Thoughts on U.S. Olympic Team, Winter Classic

*Just two short weeks ago, this blogger doubted Brooks Orpik’s chances of making the U.S. Olympic squad. It’s not that I didn’t think he deserved it (I certainly did), I was just afraid his skill set would be overlooked and/or underestimated. I guess I shouldn’t have questioned Team USA GM Brian Burke, who passed over the “old guard” in favor of fresh-faced, up-and-coming talent. For what it’s worth, the only players on the team with prior Olympic experience are the Rangers’ Chris Drury, New Jersey’s Jamie Langenbrunner and Detroit’s Brian Rafalski. Personally, I think it’s a good thing Team USA has turned the proverbial page. God knows the 2006 squad didn’t get the job done in Italy, where it lost in the quarterfinals. New blood was clearly needed.

I’m not going to break down the intricacies of every player’s game, but I think the team has a good balance of talent and grit up front. How can you not like the potential offense Parise, Kane, Kessel and Ryan will bring? Brown, Callahan and Kesler should make life miserable for opposing players. Goaltending is (and better be) Team USA’s strength. Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas make as good a 1-2 punch in the tourney. I am a little concerned about the squad’s defense, however. Paul Martin is currently recovering from injury, Rafalski is old and both Johnsons (Erik and Jack) are very young. I guess we’ll just have to wait until Feb. 16 to see how things play out.

**Although still a spectacle to behold, the Winter Classic lost a little of its luster for me this year. It’s hard to watch bitter rival Philadelphia being showcased in the NHL’s marquee regular-season game. Nonetheless, Fenway Park was an awesome venue. I was also glad to see that the weather cooperated. I’m already getting used to this new New Year’s Day tradition. Can’t wait to see what 2011’s matchup will be.

The game itself was OK – a lot of physical play, good back-and-forth action. It did feature the WC’s first fight, as mustachioed Flyers’ goon Dan Carcillo managed to knock down Bruins’ tough guy Shawn Thornton in an unfortunately brief tussle. Philly’s lone goal was also a sight to see. Thomas completely took himself out of position to personally remove Scott Hartnell from the crease. Problem was, he forgot to keep his eye on the puck. Can’t say that I’ve seen that before. And graybeard Mark Recchi showed that he can still get the job done by tying it up with a late PP goal. Both of Boston’s goals came off nice deflections from right in front.

Let’s hope the past doesn’t repeat itself. Remember, the winner of the first two Winter Classics made it to the Cup finals.

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