Team-by-team breakdown (U.S.)

3. In theory the U.S. forward group is not as deep as say Canada's (let's face it: No one ices a group of forwards as dangerous as Canada's) or Sweden or Russia, but a closer look shows the Americans' forward group is deceptively balanced and dangerous. As of this writing, six Americans had at least 20 goals: Joe Pavelski, Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler, Max Pacioretty and James van Riemsdyk. By comparison, the Swedes have just one ( Alexander Steen), as do the Russians ( Alex Ovechkin), although half the Russian roster plays in the KHL. Given the evolution of players such as Kessel, van Riemsdyk, Wheeler and Pacioretty, this is a much more potent team than the '10 squad. There is also the experience factor with nine forwards returning from the silver medal squad. That will help counterbalance the inexperience along the blue line and should help the squad ride out whatever bumps there may be in the road to the medal round.

4. How many times did Brian Burke, the general manager of the 2010 team, tell reporters in the lead-up to the Vancouver Games that no one gave the Americans a snowball's chance in a sauna (or some variation on the theme) of winning a gold? He created a barrier between the high internal expectations and the modest external expectations. That no longer holds true and everyone knows this team won't sneak up on anyone. That's a different mindset, but given the experience this team brings to the table -- especially in goal and up front -- the Americans should embrace heading into this tournament among the group of nations expected to compete for the gold. Now, whether that mindset will help them make a seamless transition to the big ice is another issue altogether.

5. Does it matter that head coach Dan Bylsma has no experience coaching at the international level? Certainly in conversations with the Penguins head coach and others, it appears he's left no stone unturned in trying to educate himself, having examined the coaching decisions made in the Vancouver Games and traveling to the World Championships, where he scouted some of the European teams to try and get a handle on their respective tendencies on the big ice. He also traveled to Wilson's Hilton Head area home in the summer to talk about the challenges of coaching in the Olympics. He'll also have the benefit of Peter Laviolette on his staff. Laviolette coached the U.S. team at the '06 Olympics in Turin, Italy. Make no mistake, coaching is a key factor in a short tournament, and Bylsma will have to assess what is working -- whether it's in goal, with his defense pairings or forward combinations -- very quickly and then make assertive moves, something we saw Wilson do with the U.S. squad in Vancouver.

Breakout player to watch: Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks

When he introduced the U.S. team after the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, GM David Poile suggested Fowler might have been the NHL's best defenseman in the weeks leading up to the announcement. His play for the NHL's best team in Anaheim has been sterling, and he'll get a chance to shine in Sochi.

Prediction

We said in August at the U.S. orientation camp that this group could take the next step in the Olympic evolution -- and there's no reason to back off that belief. Gold medal.

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