Gold-Digger

The following ran in Thursday night’s Committed Indian.  Let it serve as our choices/predictions for the roster of Team USA, which is scheduled to be revealed today at the conclusion of the Winter Classic.

It’s December 31st, and in NHL land, that means one thing: we’re mere hours away from the now-annual Winter Classic. Last season it meant we were putting the Jagermeister on ice, buying a second pair of wool socks, and making sure the Wrigley Field marquee-shaped tickets were ready to be quickly snatched in the morning. While this year’s New Year’s Day celebration is certain to be less noteworthy for us, the NHL still has an extra surprise up its sleeve.

By this time tomorrow, the entire roster of Team USA will be revealed. Since we’re still in the holiday spirit, we want to save you the time and reveal the actual roster now.

This is a period of transition for the US. Long gone are most of the familiar faces that won World Cup gold in 1996. Excluded are past-their-prime or underachieving active vets Mike Modano, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Mathieu Schneider, Keith Tkachuk and others. Vets? We don’t need no stinkin’ vets.

In their place is a pool of young talent that has already experienced an impressive amount of international triumph. Here is the next generation of Team USA. Get used to most of these names; you’ll be seeing them for awhile.

FORWARDS

Zach Parise (New Jersey Devils): Parise is probably the best forward the USA has to offer. Like a few other players on this roster, he’s no stranger to international success. Parise was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2004 World Junior Championships when the US captured the gold medal for the first time in tournament history.

Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks): Kane was named to the World Junior Championship All-Star team in 2007 when he helped the US capture only their third medal in tournament history, a bronze. He’ll be leaned on for scoring.

Paul Stastny (Colorado Avalanche): Though he was born in Quebec City – and, as such, boasts Brett Hull-esque dual citizenship – Stastny will likely center the number one American line between Parise and Kane. He’s practically hockey royalty and is moving at a point-per-game clip this season.

Phil Kessel (Toronto Maple Leafs): Though Kessel has cooled off lately, he’s still one of the game’s most electrifying talents. He’s nearly a point-per-game player in his 21 career World Championship games, including appearances from ’06 to ’08, and is already quite experienced in international play.

Tim Connolly (Buffalo Sabres): If he doesn’t do his best impression of Samuel L. Jackson in Unbreakable – and that’s always a very strong possibility –Connolly will likely center a scoring line for the US.

Bobby Ryan (Anaheim Ducks): Well on his way to becoming a perennial 30-plus-goal scorer, Ryan is another young American gun who can score with the best of them.

Dustin Brown (LA Kings): Brown can do a little bit of everything, but he’ll likely be asked to play physically and responsibly for the Americans. He’s also capable of contributing offensively if asked.

Ryan Kesler (Vancouver Canucks): Another member of the 2004 World Junior Championship team, Kesler gives team USA some nice versatility. He can be their second line center; he can be their checking center; and rumor has it, he also likes to iron.

Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks): Pavelski is a late-bloomer for Team USA. His first international competition came this summer when he played in the World Championships after San Jose pulled their customary first-round bed wetting. He’ll likely be used as a depth forward.

Ryan Malone (Tampa Bay Lightning): The large left winger leads all Americans in goals heading into 2010. He has scored at least 22 goals in four of his five completed NHL seasons, and he’s on pace to get close to 40 this season.

Jamie Langenbrunner (New Jersey Devils): In the past month or so, Langenbrunner has sounded like the fat girl in high school who really wanted to get asked to prom. He’s done all but name a solar system after Brian Burke and Ron Wilson to make sure they ask him to be on the team. Enough already, Jamie; you made the team. You may be the captain as well.

Dustin Byfuglien (Chicago Blackhawks): He may not be the most accomplished or talented of the remaining US forwards, but try telling us Burke will pass Big Buff over. Buff excels in checking roles, and even has a penchant for contributing offensively against teams’ lesser lines. So long as Wilson doesn’t ask him to catch passes from Kane or play defense during the tournament, Buff may be in a perfect position to run for Congress soon thereafter.

Kyle Okposo (New York Islanders): Okposo makes the team as the 13th forward. And also as a body double for Patrick Kane.

DEFENSEMEN

Erik Johnson (St. Louis Blues): Johnson was also named to the 2007 World Juniors All-Star team. He’s the best player on the St. Louis Blues and he should be an anchor on Team USA for years to come.

Brian Rafalski (Detroit Red Wings): Rafalski’s made a nice career out of standing next to the most talented defenseman on his team. Why should this tournament be any different? Though Johnson’s not Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer or Nicklas Lidstrom, he’ll do.

Paul Martin (New Jersey Devils): Though no one’s seen him in months and rumors persist that he’s actually dead, Martin’s rock solid on the blue line and should be ready to go by tournament time. Hey, if he’s good enough for Lou Lamoriello, he’s good enough for us.

Ryan Suter (Nashville Predators): Suter anchored the 2004 World Juniors defensive unit. He won’t be asked to do it this time, but like his uncle (Gary) and his father (Bob), he’ll get to represent the Stars and Stripes in the Olympic Games.

Andy Greene (New Jersey Devils): After the top four, things get a little tricky for Burke. Why the hell not Greene, who leads the East’s best team in ice time? Greene has only one less point than Brian Campbell, best among the American born defensemen.

Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh Penguins): The Stanley Cup champion is big and plays well in big games. What more could you ask for from a third pairing defenseman?

Ryan Whitney (Anaheim Ducks): Though some may argue his teammate James Wisniewski is more deserving, Ryan Whitney gives the US another puck moving defenseman as well as one huge ass body. Whitney also attended the August orientation Wiz was excluded from.

GOALIES

Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres): Team USA’s chances of medaling rest almost solely on this man’s shoulders. If he shoots fireballs out his ass, the US will be capable of beating anybody. Lucky for his fellow Americans, Miller is at or near the top of almost every important statistical category this season and may be the best goaltender in the world right now.

Tim Thomas (Boston Bruins): If things go to plan, then the reigning Vezina Trophy will never have to put his mask on after warm-ups. Otherwise, the plan is for him to get as hot as he was during stretches last year.

Jonathan Quick (LA Kings): He probably won’t dress for any of the games. The plan for Quick is to give him a taste of international competition because at 22-years old, he is the future of Team USA’s netminding.

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