Posted: Tuesday December 20, 2005 11:53AM; Updated: Tuesday December 20, 2005 1:23PM
Though significantly younger than much of the team, New Jersey's Brian Gionta brings Team USA the current production it craves.
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The red, white and blue is not green.
By selecting a team somewhere between seasoned and may-I-help-you-to-a-chair, Don Waddell, general manager of the U.S. Olympic hockey team, delayed the long-anticipated American youth movement.
There is Chris Chelios -- nearly 44 and a holdover from the 1984 Olympics -- among a group of defensemen that includes just two players under the age of 30. They will be headmanning passes to a group of forwards, the majority of whom are old enough to remember classic '80s rock.
Some of the talent that carried USA Hockey through the '90s was omitted -- including Brian Leetch, who deserved to be on this team given his contributions for two decades, Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte, who could make less compelling arguments -- but the 2006 team still has seven members from the '98 Olympic group that disgraced itself with its destructive behavior in the athletes' village.
During a conference call Tuesday night, Waddell agreed that "it's not a real young team, not as young a team that people expected." This is a last gasp that probably will exceed its reach. While Waddell spoke about selecting a team that plans to contend for gold, the Americans are underdogs behind co-favorites Canada and the Czech Republic, even behind teams on the second tier, Sweden and the unpredictable Russians.
Instead of thoroughly overhauling the roster with an eye towards the '10 Games in Vancouver, USA Hockey decided to take a final fling with Keith Tkachuk (who reported to St. Louis' training camp grossly out of shape), Bill Guerin (having a humdrum season in Dallas), Doug Weight and Chelios. This is a transition team, one that inevitably will need even more substantial tweaking in four years.
Still, some of the veterans provide Team USA with a better chance next February than if Waddell had given head coach Peter Laviolette some players straight from the NHL incubator. The experience factor, coupled with the lack of attention heading into Turin, could make Team USA sneaky good. American hockey teams often have done well when they were not particularly fancied (Lake Placid in '80, the silver medalists of '02) and tended to fall on their face when favored (the '98 team, which entered the Olympics as World Cup champions, and the '84 team, which lost its tournament opener even before the opening ceremonies).