The U.S. men’s hockey team begins its quest for its third gold medal in history next week against Group A rival Slovakia in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Led by team captain and Minnesota left winger Zach Parise, along with head coach Dan Bylsma, Team USA hopes to make its third trip to the medal rounds in the last four Olympic Games, and reach even further for the squad’s first gold medal since 1980’s legendary victory at Lake Placid.
Bylsma also named Los Angeles Kings right winger Dustin Brown and Wild defenseman Ryan Suter as alternate captains, with goalies Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick expected to hold down the pipes.
Team USA makes their return to the Olympics with most of the core group that captured the silver in Vancouver, many of which were first-time Olympians back in 2010. The U.S. took the silver medal in 2010 and 2002, sandwiching 2006’s disappointing eighth place finish and a 1-4-1 record.
Netting 19 goals and 17 assists for the fourth place Wild, Parise makes his second appearance for Team USA after playing a pivotal role for 2010’s silver medal as an alternate captain.
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However the focal point of the USA’s attack is likely to be Toronto Maple Leafs winger Phil Kessel and Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane. The dynamic scoring duo is fourth and fifth in the NHL with 63 total points, and will spearhead the offense in the very difficult Group A.
The group is comprised of the U.S., Slovakia, host country Russia and Slovenia, with each team squaring off once before the qualification round.
The opening game against Slovakia is headlined by dominant and towering Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara coming in at 6-foot-9 and 255 lbs. Chara’s tallied 26 points in 54 games this season, and the Bruins own the second best defense in the NHL allowing 2.14 goals per game.
The Slovaks possess an equally talented and experience offense, led by Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa and Columbus Blue Jackets forward Marian Gaborik. The 35-year-old Hossa has scored 24 goals and assisted another 26 this season, and will appear in his fourth Olympics for Slovakia.
It will be the third Olympics for Gaborik, who’s totaled 24 career international goals for his country’s senior team.
All of Team USA’s group and early rounds in the tournament will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network, with the first game on Thursday, Feb. 13 at 7:30 a.m. ET against Slovakia. There will also be a rebroadcast on NBC Sports Network at 5 p.m. ET during the group round.
The Americans will have three total group games, followed by the qualification round. Should they advance, the next rounds include the quarterfinals and semifinals, ahead of the medal games.