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CASTLE DANGER…. The World Cup of Hockey experience didn’t last long for Team USA and it wasn’t exactly a fun outing either. They were basically eliminated from Medal Round competition in Game 2 after losing to Team Canada 4-2. They played the Czech Republic two nights later and lost that match as well in a 4-3 snooze fest. Team USA ended their tourney appearance without being in Toronto long enough to send off postcards to family and friends. Their results, 0-3 versus Team Europe, (who is the surprise Final entrant versus Canada) 2-4 versus Canada, and the 3-4 clunker versus those pesky Czechs. 5 Goals for, 10 Goals Against.
This has been enough of a mental downer to send many fans and analysts into a tailspin in regards to Team USA and even to the point of eviscerating USA Hockey, it’s parent organization. Relative to the tourney critique, the USA just didn’t play well enough to get it done. The net minding was average at best, the team defensive play was good at times, lackadaisical more of the time and the offensive play was sporadic and looked uninspired. Special teams play wasn’t and the team managed only one Power Play goal in the 3 games, but the Penalty kill was solid. And the biggest impression left upon me by this club was that they just were not inspired enough or passionate enough to win this tourney. I saw absolutely no fire, especially in Game One versus Team Euro when you think they would have come out ready to chew the hind end off of a skunk.
The “lack of fire” theme was sort of present throughout the tourney, which would make you pause and shake your head considering one of the fiercest coaches in the game, John Tortorella was behind the Yanks bench. I mean, I’m certain the team effort was quite strong in every game, but to watch them they just seemed to be playing more deliberate then driven.
In specific areas, Goalie Jonathan Quick ended up with a .863 Save Percentage and a 3.56 Goals Against average. Ben Bishop had a .800 SP and a 6.0 GA. Cory Schneider came in for some mop up work. While I perceived the play between the pipes to be inadequate, I must acknowledge that I have always said that it takes 6 players to prevent a goal and that clearly wasn’t working for the Americans. For the skaters, 9 out of 10 of the top 10 in statistical rank on the club ended up as “minuses” in the plus/minus stat, mirroring the teams poor defensive play. The top three in that rank each had 2 points total in the 3 games. There isn’t much to add to that. After the loss to the Canadians and then to the Czechs, the media shivs came out to carve up the team and the organization. They were taken to task for choosing Torts as the Head Coach, taken to task for the roster selection and I think just about every management member of the club was also beaten down to a fair-thee-well.
All in all an embarrassing outing from an American perspective. Team USA General Managers Dean Lombardi and Brian Burke were verbally tarred and feathered by Yahoo Sports Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshynski, and many others, smelling blood in the water piled on. I bring up Wyshynski first because his was the most pointed article I came across. I thought some of the critique was objective, but a lot of it came across as anti-American trash talk. So, is USA Hockey about to jump off of a cliff or close to it as some scribes had advised? Hardly. USA Hockey is in no way in the dire straits as observed by some.
Was Torts the best coaching choice available? Maybe, maybe not, but when he was chosen he was an out of work NHLer and the prevailing wisdom was in regard to all of the prep time he could put in ahead of the event. Would Peter Laviolette have been a better choice? Who can honestly say? That’s a roulette wheel right there. The Roster selection has been widely panned, mostly for the players that weren’t there. But really, considering how the tourney played out, does a Phil Kessel change the outcome for the team? Was he physically ready to play after summer surgery/rehab? Probably the bigger challenge for the team was that the best American players weren’t available for this roster, playing on the Team North America Roster instead due to the tourney format. And they are exactly why USA Hockey isn’t on the International hockey death bed that so many have them on right now.
In the last two NHL Entry Drafts the USA has had the Number one choice and the Number two choice respectively. Four of the top ten overall scorers in the NHL regular season last year were Americans, and the Number one player in that stat was a Yank. To be honest and it pains me to say this, the Canadians are still the Gold standard. It’s that simple. We are gaining on them but are still not producing, in terms of depth, the number of skilled and quality players that they are. Is it set in stone that that is the way it will be? Not in the least. USA hockey numbers are still in growth mode and to have more athletes to choose from bodes well for the USA organization Did the outcome of this event really stink? Without question. Should a shakeup in the organization be considered? By all means. Is it the end of the world for Team USA? Not at all, there are plenty of positive assets to work with and build upon. Sorry Puck Daddy, it’s not time to search for the nuclear code….
THE MOST EXCITING TEAM in the entire tourney was the Team North America “Young Guns” entry. Over the summer they were given little chance to do anything in the tourney, and lo and behold their hopes for a berth in the semi’s lasted longer then Team USA’s. They went 2-1 and if it weren’t for having to depend on the lackluster Finn’s to beat the Russians to advance, they just might have gotten at least one more tilt in. They were the fastest team in the event and endeared themselves to all fans in the process. Well done! PEACE