Entering yesterday’s semi-final game against Canada, Team USA was arguably the most impressive men’s hockey team in all of Sochi. They gelled very quickly in the preliminary round before easily taking care of the Czech Republic in the quarters, understandably giving USA hockey fans quite a bit of confidence heading into Friday’s game – the first time the Americans met Canada in men’s Olympic hockey action since Vancouver’s 2010 gold-medal game.
As we all know by now, the Americans didn’t bring their best effort against the Canadians, losing a 1-0 game that wasn’t nearly as close as it appeared on the scoreboard and surrendering the chance to play Sweden in Sunday’s gold medal game to their bitter northern rivals.
Despite falling short of their golden goal, Team USA needed to put the heartbreaking loss to Winter behind them and quickly shift their focus to securing bronze. However tough a task that may have been, the Americans’ strong play prior to Friday’s loss ensured that anything short of medaling would be a failure.
Then, they took the ice against Finland on Saturday…and failure became a massive understatement. After a scoreless opening period promised a fight to the death for bronze, the Fins ripped off two goals in 11 seconds to open the second period…and USA completely flatlined.
A bevy of missed chances and failed opportunities – including two Patrick Kane penalty shots – began to stack against for the Americans, and it clearly took a toll on them mentally as the game progressed.
Coming out of the second intermission, the Americans curled up into the fetal position and – like their fans – watched in horror as Finland was allowed to roam free and impose their will on the Stars & Stripes.
Teemu Selanne – playing in his sixth (and final) Olympic Games – scored twice to help secure his third bronze medal to go along with his one silver.
The 19-year old Olli Maatta plunged the final dagger into the heart of the Americans.
If there’s a silver (or bronze?) lining to be had for USA hockey fans, it’s Selanne. The NHL legend – one of the most widely respected players in all of hockey – had a fitting send off in his final international game. Even for a proud American, it was hard not to smile as he took his victory lap with a medal around his neck.
As for USA Hockey, some tough questions lie ahead…not only for entrusted players – who may or may not even be allowed to compete in the 2018 Games in South Korea – but also for the suits who had the responsibility of assembling and coaching a team expected to compete for gold.
For their part, Brian Burke and David Poile faced plenty of questions about a few of their roster decisions before the Games, and their chosen team’s finish ensures those questions aren’t likely to disappear in the coming days and weeks. You can be sure a stink will be raised about Bobby Ryan – one of the NHL’s top pure goal scorers and Team USA’s most notable snub – considering the Americans were shut out in their final two games.
Though the excuses and explanations may vary, one thing cannot be debated – the 2014 squad morphed from a tournament superpower into a colossal disappointment in just over 24 hours, and that is inexcusable for a program that has made so many strides in recent years.