USA Hockey will get its first look at a potential Olympic roster this weekend when players and coaches assemble in Augsburg, Germany, for the 2017 Deutschland Cup.
The Deutschland Cup has been around since 1987 and typically Team USA has been comprised of American players who are playing professionally in Europe. That will again be the case this season, however, there are also some players with NHL and Olympic experience that will make the trip as well.
USA Hockey’s involvement in the Deutschland Cup was the brainchild of Art Berglund, who for multiple decades led USA Hockey’s international hockey efforts. Team USA began competing in the tournament in 2002, and in 2005 began playing in the tournament in alternating years.
The 2017 Deutschland Cup will include four teams, including the U.S., Slovakia, Russia and Germany. The competition for Team USA begins on Friday against Slovakia. Each team plays the other in a round-robin to determine a champion.
This year’s tournament is an especially important one for USA Hockey officials as they begin to piece together the U.S. roster for the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, this February.
USA Hockey is bringing 28 players to the tournament, most of whom are playing professionally in Europe. Brian Gionta was named captain of the team on Wednesday. Gionta, a 2006 Olympian, was in the NHL up until last season and opted out of NHL opportunities this season in order to chase his second Olympic appearance.
Gionta has served as captain in the NHL since 2010 when the Montreal Canadiens named him to the role; he then captained the Buffalo Sabres the past three seasons.
Ryan Malone is another North American-based player. Having sat out the last two seasons, Malone nearly made the Minnesota Wild out of training camp and is currently a captain for the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa.
With no NHL players participating in the Olympic Winter Games, both Gionta and Malone are free agents in the NHL; Malone is under an AHL contract with Iowa.
“[The Deutschland Cup] will provide us with an avenue for the coaches to be around the players in the Euro pool and evaluate guys who are there, many of whom have played for us at a wide variety of levels before,” said Jim Johannson, general manager of the U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team who works full-time for USA Hockey as assistant executive director for hockey operations.
“We’ll use that as the basis to start to build out where we think we’re headed, roster wise. Then we’ll start to plug in spots where we think guys will be utilized and we can go from there and look at the NCAA and AHL players available to us.”
Gionta, 38, has the most experience among the forward group, appearing for Team USA in two World Junior Championships (1998 and 1999) while also representing USA Hockey in three world championships (2000, 2001 and 2005) and earning a spot on the 2006 Olympic Team, where he led Team USA in scoring. The former Boston College Eagle is also a veteran of more than 1,000 NHL games.
Malone is the only other member of the roster with Olympic experience; he tied for second in scoring on the 2010 team that won a silver medal.
Another promising forward is Garrett Roe. The former St. Cloud State forward has 22 points (7 goals, 15 assists) in 18 games for EV Zug in Switzerland’s National League A (NLA) this season and has been a prominent scorer in European leagues since his collegiate career ended in 2011.
Mark Arcobello is another intriguing prospect at forward. After graduating from Yale in 2010, Arcobello never caught on full-time with the Edmonton Oilers and bounced around with four NHL organizations in 2014-15. He made the move to the NLA last season and was the league’s top scorer and MVP. This season he has 22 points (8 goals, 14 assists) in 19 games.
Ryan Lasch was one of Arcobello’s teammates last season and this year he’s one of the top scorers in the Swedish Hockey League. Another former Yale Bulldog is Sean Backman, who was a solid contributor in the AHL for seven seasons before moving to Europe this year. So far, he’s leading Germany’s Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) in goals with 13 in 20 games. Broc Little is tied for the NLA’s lead in goals scored with 12 in 20 games.
“Today’s game is all about skating, so we’ll get up and down the ice, but I think you’ll also see a blend of experienced players who know how to play the game and know the big ice,” Johannson said. “They also know how to keep your team in games.”
Team USA’s defense isn’t filled with many point-producers, but the unit is solid all the way through.
Leading the experience on the blue line is Mark Stuart. A former first-round pick out of Colorado College, Stuart is in his first season overseas with Adler (DEL) and was a captain of two Team USA world championship teams. As a junior player, Stuart played in two World Junior Championships and also captained the U.S. National Under-18 Team in 2002.
Matt Gilroy is perhaps the defenseman on the roster who can push the puck the best. Gilroy is a former Hobey Baker Award winner and NCAA national champion out of Boston University and currently sits sixth among defensemen in scoring in the Russian KHL with 17 points (6 goals, 11 assists) in 27 games. Gilroy also has international experience, appearing for Team USA at the world championships in 2010 and playing on the USA Hockey’s last Deutschland Cup team in 2015.
Tom Gilbert brings plenty of NHL experience to the roster, appearing in 655 games from 2006 until last season, with 45 goals and 178 assists. Gilbert played at the University of Wisconsin and represented Team USA at the 2008 world championship.
“We've had plenty of players play in the world championships that have played in the Deutschland Cup,” Johannson said. “That tournament has really helped raise our identity internationally and secondly it comes full circle. In Europe there is such pride in playing for the senior team, when a German or Swiss guy says he played on the senior team, that's a marker for that player. In this country some of our players start to feel that when they play in events like the Deutschland Cup."
The goaltenders are led by Ryan Zapolski, who has been one of the best netminders in Europe for the last five seasons. This year, he’s leading the KHL with a .945 save percentage and 1.42 goals-against average (among players who have played at least 11 games). Zapolski was a relative unknown coming out of Mercyhurst College and then played parts of three seasons in the ECHL — with five different organizations — before settling in Europe. Zapolski has appeared in two Deutschland Cup tournaments for USA Hockey, including sporting a .944 save percentage and 1.82 goals-against average in the 2015 tournament.
Zapolski will be joined on the roster by former Clarkson goalie David Leggio (2.08/.934 in nine games with ECH Munchen in the DEL) and Brandon Maxwell (2.12/.928 in 14 games with Boleslav in the Czech league).
The team will be coached by Olympic head coach Tony Granato (University of Wisconsin) along with Chris Chelios, Ron Rolston, Scott Young and Yale head coach Keith Allain.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
|Date||Opponent||Time (Local/ET)||Location||Live Stream|
|Friday, Nov. 10||Slovakia||4 p.m./10 a.m.||Curt Frenzel Stadium
|Saturday, Nov. 11||Russia||7:30 p.m./1:30 p.m.||Curt Frenzel Stadium
|Sunday, Nov. 12||Germany||4:45 p.m./10:45 a.m.||Curt Frenzel Stadium