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Blackhawks Thu Jan 02 2014
If you happened to catch the annual Winter Classic on NBC yesterday afternoon, you witnessed two Original Six teams in the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs play in front of a capacity crowd at the Big House in Ann Arbor, MI (the Leafs won it in a shootout, 3-2). And just like the Winter Classic four years ago in Fenway Park, the league and network asked viewers to stick around for the unveiling of Team USA for the Olympic Games, this year to be held in Sochi, Russia.
Most of the 104,000 fans in the Big House New Year's Day decided to head for warmer territory and catch the highlights at home, while the rest of us at home continued to stay tuned to hear Patrick Kane's name be announced -- really just a formality -- and see which other Blackhawks would represent the Red, White and Blue come next month in Sochi.
There was little doubt that Kane was going to make the team, especially with the current season the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner is having. Kane leads the West in scoring, and only is six points behind Sidney Crosby for the league lead. Kane has earned the respect of his peers, the league and Team USA, and will join a talented roster, which also includes the New York Rangers' Ryan Callahan, the Toronto Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel and the Los Angeles Kings' Dustin Brown.
Waiting in the wings as potential teammates with Kane were fellow Hawks Nick Leddy and Brandon Saad. As it turned out, the committee that selects these players decided to leave both men off the squad, more than likely in favor of tighter defense, especially out of the Eastern Conference, to go up against the potential onslaught of scoring from Team Canada.
Saad is the biggest head-scratcher for not making the team, as his 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists) plus consistent play in the defensive zone have paid dividends in the Blackhawks' streaking along this regular season. Leddy is a solid player who very easily could have made this squad, but his no-name style of play perhaps left him off the sheet. With only two blue liners coming from the West -- Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Suter and Cam Fowler -- the committee favored the likes of Justin Faulk of the Hurricanes, John Carlson of the Capitals or even Brooks Orpik of the Penguins, to name a few out of the East.
Blackhawks fans can rest easy, though; this is due in part to having at least two key players come June getting as much rest needed for the stretch. If the NHL allows its players to play in the next Winter Olympics in 2018, Saad and Leddy will probably be a part of Team USA, alongside with Kane.
It's a lot of fun to watch NHL-caliber players compete for the Gold, especially how it all went down in Vancouver four years ago. But in all reality, the games should be left to the amateurs and not professionals. If the United States isn't able to field a team competitive enough to beat Team Canada, Team Sweden or even Team Russia, then it needs to re-establish its training system to be able to do so.
And let's not kid ourselves, Team USA looks pretty sharp, and should beat most of its competition in the tournament, but Team Canada should read like a "who's who" of the world's elite on ice. Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, to name a handful, were all on the 2010 Gold medal team and more than likely will be named to the 2014 team. It'll be an uphill battle for sure, but certainly not one that is impossible -- just really tough. (Hey, we all remember 1980 in Lake Placid, right?)
Best of luck to Kane and Team USA next month. And, again, if more NHL players are given the green light to play next time around, Saad and Leddy should get the call. It'll be fun to watch, especially if this team can bring home the Gold. But it will be that much sweeter if Team Blackhawks can come back stateside in one piece.