Watching Team USA struggle to beat a depleted Russian team (FYI, they couldn’t), you couldn’t help but think about how many NHL managers are so taken with the past.
If you’re a Rangers fan, you’re kind of used to seeing NHL stars skating past their prime. But watching the US struggle has been almost worse than watching the Rangers, since the Red, White, and Blue don’t have to be that bad (the Rangers are contractually obligated to suck).
For instance, the Russians are as fast as anything. It’s like they’re skating on Crisco. You can’t dump-and-chase on them. They get to the puck too quickly. So you have to carry the puck into the zone. And who is a better puck carrier than Scott Gomez from the Devils? He’s one of the best puck-haulers in the league. And yet, he wasn’t the key to U.S.’s gameplan. Instead the increasingly lethargic Mike Modano racked up the ice time. The reason? He’s a familiar name. After all, Gomez is only playing because Jeremy Roenick couldn’t.
And not to sound too New York-centric, but Islander Jason Blake also would have been a huge weapon against the Russians. Blake certainly isn’t the most elegant player, but he’s got speed and anger. He’s awful to play against. He could have kept the Russians on their heels.
In fact, the only asset Team USA has taken advantage of has been goalie Robert Esche, who’s been playing the best hockey of his career. But if Mike Richter hadn’t retired due to injuries, there’s no doubt Richter would be starting for the US. Because he’s just about always started for the US.
Team USA has a huge talent pool to draw from (except for defenseman). They should be digging deep for players who are tough and versatile. They shouldn’t look at the 1996 Cup-winning roster and think that these players have the same skills they had eight years ago.
Of course, having said all that, I still don’t know why old-timer Brian Leetch isn’t being used more offensively. Sad and as crazy as it sounds, defenseman Leetch might be Team USA’s best pure goal scorer. His puck-handling wouldn’t look out of hand on the Russian team. His shot is still net-seeking. Sadly, because the US is so thin defensively, Leetch is forced to concentrate on defense. If I were US coach Ron Wilson, I’d have used Leetch like a forward, letting him go deep into the Russian zone, with a forward or third defenseman covering up for him. I also would have had two bodies in front of young Russian goalie Ilja Bryzgalov at all times. The Americans just weren’t good enough to score a pretty goal. Their only real chance was to clog the lane and wait for an opportune deflection.
And while it’s not really Wilson’s domain, if I were him, I’d get Roenick out of ESPN’s booth. Three-man booths are annoying enough in hockey. It’s almost unbearable with Roenick talking over everybody and missing the commercial cues. We get it. You know Esche. You’re his friend. That’s fantastic. Is there anything else you can tell us? Does Roenick’s mic always have to be on?