Two weeks ago, when Team USA played a pre-World Cup of Hockey tuneup against Canada in Nationwide Arena, it wasn’t clear how well the Americans would fare in the latest best-on-best tournament. Yet, if you were paying attention, you had suspicions.
The USA Hockey brain trust did not assemble the nation’s most talented professionals. They put together a band of blunt-edged swords, draped a flag over it and went into the corners.
They may have beaten Canada in that Columbus exhibition, but it was plain that the Canadians were the superior team. If you were in visitors’ locker room, you saw no sweat. The Canadians knew they had taken the best shot the Americans can throw. It did not hurt.
On to Toronto, and disaster.
The U.S. was shut out by Team Europe, the hockey equivalent of a hastily built refugee camp. It was overwhelmed, and eliminated, by Canada. It was nudged out the door by the Czech Republic, which is in a down cycle.
Embarrassing? Yes. Shocking? No.
Team USA has not been feared since it took Canada to overtime in the gold-medal game at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. At Sochi in 2014, the Americans showed well in their semifinal against Canada, but the final score (1-0) belies Canadian dominance of that game.
General manager Dean Lombardi, assistants Brian Burke and Paul Holmgren and coach John Tortorella – assembled a team they thought could grind down Canada. Their roster choices were questioned before the tournament and they are being pilloried in the aftermath.
Why Justin Abdelkader, Brandon Dubinsky, Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson? Why not Tyler Johnson, Kyle Okposo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Faulk or Cam Fowler?
To my eye, the problem was not an abundance of grit or a dearth of skill. These things do not explain such poor play, especially in the defensive zone. The idea was to create a “team” rather than assemble an all-star squad, but the “team” never came together, so their grit was a non-factor. Stupid mistakes killed them at every turn. It was like watching the Crew, only with worse goaltending.
Another basic problem: A large cache of America’s elite skill was assigned to the U-23 Team North America. Canada, which has enough talent to fill two teams, was not hurt. Team USA was. Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, Dylan Larkin, Auston Matthews, Brandon Saad, Shane Gostisbehere, Seth Jones, Jacob Trouba — some of them could have added an entirely new dimension to Tortorella’s bench.
The scoreboard is the scoreboard, though, and the U.S. was wiped off the ice in Toronto. Clearly, a housecleaning is in order.
Tortorella, after what happened in Toronto, will not be coaching another best-on-best team.
Lombardi, Burke, Holmgren, et al, have long served the national cause.
They are bright and dedicated men and, as such, they should recognize that the time has come to pass the torch to a new generation, as one great American once put it.
The cause feels tired and needs regeneration. Young managers such as Bill Guerin and Doug Weight are ready to serve. Coaching is not a problem, not with Peter Laviolette and Mike Sullivan available for duty.
There is a goodly sum of young talent in the pipeline. Zach Werenski, for instance, was not on the radar this year. He may be next year. It would not take much to purge what needs to be purged and begin mixing these young men into a new cycle of international events, and under new management.
This is hockey, and teams have to bottom out before they can get better.
Same thing applies here. Team USA was destroyed in Toronto, and from that rubble will come something better.
Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.
Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.
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