Everyone wasn’t shocked when the United States named Zach Parise captain of the American squad prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics. The Minnesota Wild winger is among the best snipers in the game, and when he’s really on top of his game, he can be tough to handle down low and in the crease.
As the preliminary round of the Winter Games rolled on, however, it was clear that Parise wasn’t on his game. While the “Meat Line” of David Backes, Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan did a lot of heavy lifting and the fourth line of Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and T.J. Oshie seemed able to dominate at times, Parise was a ghost.
Nowhere to be seen.
That wasn’t a big deal when the Americans were steamrolling teams in the prelims. A leader isn’t as important when you have the lead, coincidentally. The best captains are the guys that know what to do when facing an uphill battle. In hockey, usually it comes down to little things and attention to detail.
One shift at a time. Tiny battle by tine battle. Did you notice Parise once during the tournament? A single time? No.
If the pucks aren’t going in for you, it’s up to the captain to help the team simplify. The rest of the squad watches the way the man wearing the C plays. Parise isn’t the kind of player that can go out and make an impact on games when he’s not scoring. This isn’t a slight to him at all. He’s a remarkable player and one of the top shooters America has ever produced.
He didn’t play like a captain though.
It’s mystifying that Dan Bylsma passed over Backes with all three letters, given that he wanted to see blue-collar hockey from his team. Here’s what he said prior to the Winter Games, according to Mike Halford of ProHockeyTalk:
We have a blue-collar mentality. That is where our strength is at… We looked at the strength of each player and we thought we would be a good skating team, a smart and intelligent team. Our group is toughest to play against. Look right down the line from the top to the last defenseman. We are tough.
Yes, the Americans selected many “tough” players. Ryan Callahan. Ryan Kesler. Dustin Brown and even Oshie. Parise isn’t one of the tenacious guys on the roster though. Neither was Phil Kessel or James van Riemsdyk. Those guys were in Sochi to score goals. Parise’s job was to score goals, and he didn’t.
When he failed to meet that responsibility, his bag of tricks was empty. Parise isn’t known to be the kind of guy that will go out and block some shots or make big hits to fire up his team. Backes is, and it’s a shame that Bylsma claimed to want a blue-collar effort before going to the scoring group for leadership.
That’s backwards, and that lack of command showed as the United States unraveled against Finland.
There will be a lot of finger-pointing over the next few days when it comes to US hockey. One of the first things that should be questioned is the move to make Parise the captain of a blue-collar squad.
For more Blues content, check out BleedinBlue.com.