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Empires on ice

A look at the top six hockey teams at the Turin Games

Posted: Thursday December 15, 2005 1:54PM; Updated: Wednesday December 21, 2005 7:26PM
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Wayne Gretzky will have to rely on Joe Sakic (above) to step up as a leader for Team Canada.
Wayne Gretzky will have to rely on Joe Sakic (above) to step up as a leader for Team Canada.
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We're less than a week away from the United States and Canada naming their Olympic hockey rosters (Dec. 19 for the U.S., the 22nd for the Canadians). It should be a tough tournament for both teams, who will vie with 10 other countries for medals.

Here is a look at the top six to look out for when the Turin Games kick off on Feb. 10. (Others in the tournament include likely quarterfinalists Slovakia and Germany as well as Italy, Switzerland, Latvia and Kazakhstan.)

United States

Is this year's team a mix of players who are either too old or too green? After years of stellar international play from two-time Olympian Mike Richter, Team USA needs to find a reliable goaltender who can play big in a few big games.

Tampa Bay's John Grahame may not have made the squad had it been set before the season, but his recent nine-game win streak has probably earned him a roster spot next to Rick DiPietro and Robert Esche. Ryan Miller and Ty Conklin are also candidates, but none of them have played a minute of Olympic hockey and it may make sense to add veteran Mike Dunham -- an '02 Olympic backup -- to the roster for stability.

If you thought the team isn't already devoid of stars, add this to your worries: The top U.S.-born scorers in the NHL are New Jersey's Brian Gionta and L.A.'s Craig Conroy. Mike Modano is the third U.S. forward on the NHL scoring list, but it's another 10 names before you reach any Olympic vets such as Bill Guerin or Doug Weight. If that means this team will have to rely on Mike Knuble and Eric Cole to match firepower with the Jagrs and Sundins of the world, it could be a rough tournament.

On the bright side, Detroit defenseman Mathieu Schneider is having a terrific season, but is still no lock to make the squad. Brian Rafalski, who honed his game in Finland, could help the team's power play. Would GM Don Waddell consider adding 1988 Olympic team captain Brian Leetch to the roster? Maybe. Would he dare add '84 Olympian Chris Chelios? Unlikely. But Waddell is facing a generation gap, one that may see the likes of Leetch, Chelios, John Leclair, Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick in the cold while newcomers test the frozen Olympic waters for the first time.

Outlook: Medal unlikely.

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