With the Sochi Olympic Games just around the corner, hockey fans are hungry to learn how the teams' superstar rosters will match up. Russia and Sweden pose real threats to Canada's chances of retaining the gold medal, and another Olympic hockey team seems less of a dark horse this time around and more of a true heavyweight.
Team USA is no longer on the outside looking in as one of 2014's hockey powerhouses.
With the Canadians and Americans boasting star-studded lineups, fans across North America will compare and debate about which team is better. Each team has Stanley Cup champions and NHL award winners, so experience and individual talent isn't an issue.
Here's a comparison of the Canadian and American rosters in terms of the players' athleticism.
Team USA has always been known for its speed. Their lineups usually consist of small, fast players. This year seems no different with the likes of Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, T.J. Oshie, Max Pacioretty, Joe Pavelski and Dustin Brown taking the ice. Team USA's speed will be the difference in whether they make the medal round or go home empty handed.
Team Canada's forwards also possess blazing speed with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene, Patrick Marleau and John Tavares. The Canadians, however, also have players up front, like Corey Perry, Jamie Benn and Rick Nash, who aren't necessarily known for their speed, but more for their skill, physical presence and game-changing ability. If Steven Stamkos were 100 percent, this might be a closer argument, but right now his status is hard to tell after what seemed like a season-ending injury.
Advantage: Team USA
Hockey power can be defined in different ways, but in terms of athleticism, we're mainly looking at which players possess the ability to accelerate quicker than anyone, based on their ability to apply force into the ice. We can also assess which players possess enough total body strength to unleash a cannon of a shot at a moment's notice.
With Team USA lining up a roster with more speed, you'd think this would be a landslide win for the Canadians; but don't let the Americans' size fool you. The American team includes Max Pacioretty, arguably the most powerful player in the tournament in terms of acceleration. A Prentiss Hockey Performance athlete, Pacioretty is known for his outrageous lower-body power.
Team Canada has many players with powerful tools. Take the game's best player for example. Sidney Crosby has tree trunks for legs, which help him accelerate past defenders better than anyone. On defense, P.K. Subban and Shea Weber have two of the most powerful shots you'll see in the tournament, with only Zdeno Chara possessing a harder shot.
Each team includes players with tons of strength to spare. Don't let the size of smaller players like Dustin Brown and Matt Duchene fool you; they aren't considered two of the best players in the game for nothing. They compete nightly against some of the league's largest and strongest players, like Weber and John Carlson, so strength isn't something these teams lack. This one is too close to call.
If the two teams meet, it may come down to which one can last the longest. With Ryan Suter leading the NHL at just over 29 minutes per game, Team USA has a defensive anchor who plays major minutes, especially when the game is on the line. Team USA also includes two more players ranked among the NHL's top 30 in time on the ice, with Justin Faulk and Cam Fowler falling just outside the top 30. Team Canada's leader for TOI is Weber at just under 27 minutes per game. If the game comes down to which team can last the longest, Team Canada has more horses to lead the way.
Although Canada may have the most complete athletic team, Olympic hockey gold is never won by the best team on paper. The team that can come together the fastest, develop chemistry among linemates and catch momentum early will win the gold medal.
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