Team USA scrambling for answers after World Cup ouster
TORONTO — Members of Team USA gathered for a few drinks after they were eliminated from the World Cup of Hockey.
There was a lot to discuss.
The United States was surprised by Team Europe and wasn’t good enough against Canada, leading to two losses and a cascade of questions. John Tortorella as coach? Too much grit? Not enough skill? What might change after another all-too-familiar early exit from an international tournament? The pipeline of young talent for next time around?
A few days isn’t enough time to answer all those questions, especially for players whose job was to play a certain style of hockey — not put together a roster or pick the coaching staff.
“I liked our team,” winger Zach Parise said Wednesday. “I thought we played hard. It’s not a player’s job to speculate who should or shouldn’t be on the team before or after the tournament.”
Phil Kessel took his shot. Left off the team along with scoring forwards Kyle Okposo and Tyler Johnson and defensemen Justin Faulk, Kevin Shattenkirk and Cam Fowler, the Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins winger tweeted after the U.S. loss: “Just sitting around the house tonight (with) my dog. Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn’t put my finger on it.”
U.S. management went with a sandpaper style of play that almost resulted in a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics but hasn’t worked since. Center David Backes said he believes that style of hockey can still win if executed correctly.
“To come here and flop like we did is extremely disappointing,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “Obviously we have to examine ourselves and what more could we have done and how can we get better for future tournaments.”
The 0-2 start revealed the Americans brought too much physicality to a skill game. Canada, Russia, Team North America and others have thrived with fast-paced, entertaining hockey.
Speed has been king at this international tournament, but Backes noted that the Americans “weren’t going to out-skill Canada.” With the aim of beating Canada, U.S. general manager Dean Lombardi instead built a big team with an edge in hopes of neutralizing the talent of the top hockey power in the world.
Instead, the World Cup showed that depth of talent is everything. Leaving more skilled players at home was too much to overcome.
Kessel was the Americans’ leading scorer and best player at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but he was left off the roster. Hand surgery after the playoffs may have put his availability in doubt, but USA Hockey’s management team clearly overlooked him and others.
The U.S. opted for old-guard players like forward Brandon Dubinsky, defensemen Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson and grinder Justin Abdelkader.
Tortorella, as old-school a coach as there is, wanted to play his brand of hockey and stood by the roster construction and style.
Canada outclassed the U.S. in a 4-2 whacking Tuesday night that wasn’t as close as the score. Not only could the Americans not beat the tournament favorite but they weren’t able to knock them around, either.
“As a team we have some bigger guys who are physical,” Canada captain Sidney Crosby said. “It doesn’t mean they have to chase hits.”
In the aftermath of the loss, players talked about hitting the post and being close. They also defended their teammates against criticism, even while conceding the results weren’t good enough.
“There’s perhaps a gut check for everybody that’s on this team to know or to evaluate really what they were able to give or what they gave for the red white and the blue,” Backes said.
Tortorella was not made available to reporters on Wednesday. Lombardi was expected to speak Thursday.
Patrick Kane, who did not score a goal in two games after winning the Hart Trophy as the NHL MVP last season, wouldn’t blame his coach for this failing.
“Tortorella is just one of the most passionate guys I’ve ever seen about hockey,” Kane said. “I’ll never say a bad thing about him. He’s just a great coach. We didn’t show up for him.”
Lombardi and other executives will take heat for the World Cup debacle, though it might lead to philosophical changes about how to beat Canada and win elite tournaments. It will help at future events to have players like Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Brandon Saad and Seth Jones, all of whom played on the 23-and-under Team North America and weren’t eligible for the U.S. team.
“There is definitely a fantastic future coming here,” Tortorella said Tuesday night. “There are some good young kids there that I think they’ll bring some juice to the program.”
For now, there is the final game against the Czechs. Parise said the U.S. won’t repeat what it did in against Finland in the bronze medal game at the Sochi Olympics, essentially mailing it in.
“All of us probably really regretted what happened that game,” Parise said. “You ask yourself, ‘Could we have played harder with the bronze medal on the line?’ … We’ll come and play hard just like there is a spot on the line to get in.”
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