If you want to catch Team USA’s first game at the 2012 IIHF Men’s World Championship, you better be a morning person… or at least getting ready for work early. The U.S. will meet France at 5:15 a.m. ET live on NBC Sports Network.
The first game of any tournament is always important. In the round-robin portion of the tournament, every win and even every goal for and against can matter. However, in the first game, it’s just as important to set the tone.
Getting off to a good start is going to be important for a U.S. team still learning to play with each other.
After a 3-2 exhibition win over Sweden, the U.S. can have some confidence, but cautious confidence as good goaltending went a long way for the Americans. Team USA was badly outshot (43-21) and its ability to generate offense certainly will be a concern.
France offers a good test, but does not boast a roster full of NHL talent. That’s a good opening draw for the NHL-player laden U.S. team.
Team USA will have to establish an offensive presence early and hope things start clicking among the lines rather immediately.
Coming up after the jump, a few more notes on the USA-France game, as well as key players for both sides, a quick look at potential lines for Team USA, and other important tournament info ahead of the opener.
Jack Johnson — Johnson was named Team USA’s captain Thursday, to the surprise of no one. He served in the same role last year and has Olympic experience, making him the obvious choice. Additionally, Johnson has always jumped at the opportunity to play for his country. Having a guy with a strong desire to be there matters just as much as playing ability. You know you’ll get a great effort out of Johnson in the USA jersey. He can set the emotional tone for the team in this first game.
Bobby Ryan — As one of the three Olympians on the roster, Ryan has to be an offensive leader. His goal-scoring prowess in the NHL has to translate to offensive success at the Worlds for Team USA to benefit. Ryan scored a bit of a flukey goal in the exhibition against Sweden, but if that’s enough to get him started, then it’s a good thing.
Ryan Lasch — You might not know who Lasch is. As one of just two non-NHL players on the roster, Lasch is no slouch. He led the SM-Liiga in scoring this past season and should be able to do some things offensively for Team USA. He could turn some heads.
Cristobal Huet — One of the few names on France’s roster that will be familiar to NHL fans, Huet is a key for the French side. Though Chicago stashed him in the Swiss league, Huet can still play. He might not be the goaltender he once was, but he’s played at the highest level in the world and having a guy with that kind of experience between the pipes matters. Assuming he gets the start, Team USA will have to put on the pressure early.
Setphane Da Costa — The Ottawa Senator will undoubtedly be one of the top offensive threats for Team France. He had a strong season split between Ottawa and AHL Binghamton. Though more of a playmaker than a scorer, Da Costa will have to lead the way offensively against the Americans. Having played the last six seasons in North America (NAHL, USHL, Merrimack College) should help Da Costa as well.
Antoine Roussel — Roussel spent last season in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves. More of a tough guy than an offensive threat, Roussel’s skill set might be neutralized by the international rules. Regardless, having someone with a reputation like Roussel’s adds a little grit to the French lineup (Yeah, I’m surprised I typed that, too).
This may not mean anything, but in case you were wondering, here were the lines and D pairings from Team USA’s exhibition with Sweden.
Bobby Ryan – Paul Stastny – Max Pacioretty
Ryan Lasch – Jim Slater – Kyle Okposo
J.T. Brown – Justin Abdelkader – Cam Atkinson
Joey Crabb – Nate Thompson – Patrick Dwyer
Cam Fowler – Jack Johnson
Justin Faulk – Alex Goligoski
Jeff Petry – Chris Butler
John Curry and Kyle Palmieri did not dress.
The line of Lasch, Slater and Okposo got two of Team USA’s three goals in the game and looked threatening for much of the game.
That first line with Ryan, Stastny and Pacioretty is absolutely loaded. In this tournament, you can get away with overloading your top line, as opposed to trying to find balanced scoring. If Scott Gordon feels that line can carry the team offensively, there’s no need to spread them apart. It’s a bit of a gamble, but if the Slater line can provide good enough secondary scoring, it’s well worth it.
Other Tournament Info & Links
Here’s the rest of the stuff you need to know about the 2012 IIHF World Men’s Championship…
Team USA is playing in the Helsinki group, which includes defending champ Finland, Canada, Slovakia, France, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The format is a little complicated, but the IIHF has you covered with a detailed explanation of how this thing works.
Live statistics as well as a complete tournament schedule can be found here.
Here’s a look at the all-time medalists dating back to the 1920 Olympics. The U.S. sure was good in the 20s and 30s, less so pretty much every other decade.
When it comes to international tournaments, there’s probably nobody who will give you the comprehensive coverage in English like Bruce Peter of Puck Worlds. He’ll have extensive World Championship coverage, as per usual.
Goaltender Richard Bachman is blogging for the Dallas Stars website.
Joe Yerdon of ProHockeyTalk has a Team USA preview.
Lastly, but most importantly… this is the tournament’s Angry Birds-inspired mascot and a sparkling eagle head.