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ADOLF…. By the time you read this folks, the Team USA chances to get into the medal round of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey Tourney just might be done with. On Saturday, facing Team Europe, the US entrant put up a collective stinker of a performance in losing their tourney opener in a most lackluster performance by the Yanks, 3-0. To be somewhat fair about it, the US club ran into a guy, who to me, has been kind of an enigmatic player at points in his career. To me he has been equal parts average, equal parts injured a great deal of his career, (or so it seems) and equal parts goaltender playing unconscious, out of his gourd hockey. I am talking about the NY Islanders Jaroslav Halak.
As the saying goes, on Saturday afternoon Team USA got “Halaked”. The box score says that the Americans outshot Team Europe 35-17, won faceoffs at a 55% to 45% rate, out hit the Euros 25 to 19, and had less giveaways, 3-12. Both clubs were 0 for 4 on the Power Play with each receiving 8 minutes in penalties, and the European squad blocked 18 shots to the Yanks 8. For the most part there weren’t a lot of stretches of sustained offensive pressure, and when the Americans worked their way to a brilliant scoring opportunity, Halak was there to put up the brick wall. I have seen this from him before, particularly in the 2010 Stanley Cup tourney when he was with the Montreal Canadiens. He was their best player and got them to the Eastern Conference Finals before succumbing to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Whatever the box score might say, my eyes were seeing something else. I thought I saw a club that wasn’t playing that badly from a technical point of view, but then I saw a team that didn’t seem to be playing with that much visible spirit or emotion. That was a surprise to me considering they have probably the most emotional coach in the National Hockey League in John Tortorella. A lot of fans were scratching their heads prior to the tilt upon learning that Torts had healthy scratched Big Dustin Byfuglien and Kyle Palmieri. While Palmieri is a good player, Big Buff can alter the complexion of a game. Why he was pulled from the lineup for the opener will probably forever remain a mystery.
Since the loss Saturday there have been any number of analysts questioning the roster makeup, the coaching staff and the Management team. This isn’t a surprise and should be expected when a contest like this is lost in this fashion. There was one rather scathing article written in Yahoo Sports NHL that questioned everything about USA Hockey at this point in time. Without naming this person let me just say that I thought he was a bit over the top. Was he being realistic in his assessment? I would say partly yes, partly no. If you are adept at working your way around the internet, this chaps name is somewhat synonymous with a popular Hip Hop artist. I can’t state that he is incorrect in his opinions about where USA Hockey might be at this time, I do believe that he delivered his thoughts in a rather harsh way. Enough said on that….
Tomorrow eve will be the game of the tourney for Team USA. They will be up against Team Canada. Another loss and their chance to advance in the tourney will be over with. They will be on the way to their NHL teams training camps. And the whole key will have been to win that opener against Team Euro. In a short best on best tourney, everything you do, every game, period, shift, minute has critical importance attached to it. We now have to beat Canada tomorrow night and repeat that versus the Czech Republic squad on Thurs night. If the USA loses to Canada chances are that the Czech game will be meaningless. And then, what value will the tourney have had for Team USA? Nothing more then a wakeup call to USA Hockey according to one scribe?
USA Hockey has made some tremendous strides over the years. I can remember what the sixties, seventies and eighties were for the organization. I still have some old “AHAUS” (Amateur Hockey Association of the United States) jacket patches at home and I cherish them proudly. I think of all of the volunteers and the commitment they have made to the organization over the years and the hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours they have put in. So Mr. Eastern hockey critic, sure this was a frustrating opener for our beloved team. They might be able to right the ship tomorrow night, perhaps not. If the USA does not, and they don’t advance, that will be the time to dissect and analyze. I mean. from what I have seen over the past couple of decades, the US is pretty close. A break here or there could have earned us a handful more of some pretty big games played on some pretty big stages. I simply can’t let one game overshadow that.
A look at the upper level World Class talent that the organization is consistently producing right now is a testament to USA Hockey. Who just had the NHL overall Number one draft pick? And the Number two pick the year before that? But yet, I have some questions as well. I really get into these types of events. And when you get the big prize it is total hockey nirvana. It is a pretty euphoric feeling. When you don’t the negative impact can linger. I swear that when we lost the Gold Medal game in the 2010 Olympics at Vancouver, I was suffering from some lingering internal negativity for at least a week. So close, so absolutely close.
This tourney has a ways to go. A US victory on Tuesday eve changes everyone’s mood and disposition. Is it possible? Sure it is. If Team USA remembers to bring some emotion with them against the Canadians, it will be game on. If they come out flat looking again it could be a long night. I see the Americans digging deep and bringing some juice Tuesday eve. Torts will challenge them pre-game and the players will challenge each other. Effort, brains and muscle, and a heavy dose of Big Buff could be a tournament changer. I’m hoping…. PEACE