By Erik Freeman
With the number one draft pick from the 2000 NHL Entry draft, Ricky DiePietro between the pipes, Team USA will have a building block for this year’s club. Six other returnees are also back for a run at the gold. We will breakdown the offense, defense, and goaltending on this year’s team.

Offense: Five players are back to lead the offensive attack. Andy Hilbert from the University of Michigan is back for his 3rd tournament and must provide leadership and scoring. Jeff Taffe, Team USA’s leading scorer from last season, is also back. Look for him and fellow Minnesotan Troy Riddle to play together. They have worked very well together throughout the year for the Golden Gophers. Other returnees include Connor Dunlop, Brett Nowak, and John Sabo. R.J. Umberger is a newcomer to watch for. Excellent play at Ohio State earned Umberger the number one ranking by the CSB among college eligible players for April’s NHL Entry Draft. Troy Riddle will be counted on to use his wicked speed and finesse to antagonize opponents. Other forwards who will be looked upon to score are Jon DiSalvatore, Marc Cavosie and Kris Vernarsky. This group of forwards should be able to skate with the high flying Czech’s and Swede’s in Group A. Team USA wants to play an up tempo style of play, which shouldn’t be a problem with the speed this team possesses.

Defense: Anchoring the defensive unit is first round draft pick in last year’s draft, Ron Hainsey, from the University of Mass-Lowell. Having only one player with experience at the World Juniors some teams could figure to be in trouble. Not this team! The new incoming players will fill the roles from last years club without a problem. Paul Martin from the University of Minnesota has adjusted well to the college game in his first season. Mike Komisarek will be looked upon to provide solid defense and bring the physical aspect of the game to the rink every day. Tim Gleason, the youngest player on this years squad hopes to have a coming out party. Silky smooth is a way to describe Gleason’s skating and end to end rushes. He is projected as a top 10 pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Other members of the defense include J.D. Forrest, David Hale, and Freddy Meyer.

Goaltending: The foundation of the club lies in its goaltending. “The Rick” must play up to the level he is capable for this club to obtain its goal of earning the gold. DiPietro has struggled at times adjusting to the IHL level of play, but has the experience on the international stage and has proved he can shine. Backing up Ricky is Northern Michigan freshman Craig Kowalski.

Last Words: Does this team have enough firepower to compete with the Canadians, Czechs or Swedes? It’s tough to answer right now but the club has all the intangables to win the gold. They should be able to skate with everyone but must play excellent in the defensive zone and bury the puck when the opportunity arrives. They can’t afford to get into high scoring affairs. The keys to success will start in the defensive zone. With solid defensive hockey the goals should take care of themselves and Team USA should be within reach of the gold.