TORONTO — Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.
Maybe if Team USA general manager Dean Lombardi had gone for more skill than grit while building his team, Canada still would have blitzed the Americans for three first-period goals.
Maybe if Team USA coach John Tortorella’s mindset wasn’t stuck in the mid-1990s, Canada still would have been able to toy with the Americans, playing keep-away for three excruciating, borderline embarrassing minutes in the second period.
Maybe, armed with some of the sensational young Americans — Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, Auston Matthews — that were siphoned off by the Team North America “young guns” squad for this tournament, the United States could have generated more offense, more chances, more hope.
Or maybe the Americans simply don’t have the talent, the depth, the breathtaking speed and skill of the Canadians — a remarkable squad on an international hot streak not seen since the pre-Miracle on Ice Soviets. Probably that, actually.
But Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to Canada in the group stage of the World Cup of Hockey was a modern-day low point for the American program. On the big stage, against the big rival, in a do-or-die game — their “championship,” according to Tortorella — the Americans were simply outclassed. The loss dropped Team USA to 0-2 in pool play, by a combined 7-2 score, and they cannot advance to the semifinals. Thursday night’s essentially meaningless tilt with the 0-2 Czech Republic will end the Americans’ stay in Toronto.
“It’s disappointing, frustrating, all different types of emotions,” Tortorella said. “I think we let some people down. It’s on my watch. I certainly feel responsible for that. it’s really disappointing.”
Patrick Kane was quick to let his coach off the hook.
“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 I feel bad in that sense.”
So, surprisingly, Kane will be back in time for Blackhawks camp. While Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford, Marian Hossa, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, and perhaps Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov seem destined for the next round, Kane will head back to Chicago in disappointment. Playing for Team USA means the world to Kane — the heartbreak etched on his face is one of the indelible images from the Americans’ last meaningful game against Canada, a 1-0 loss in the Olympic semifinals in 2014. But even though Tortorella beefed up Kane’s line by replacing Justin Abdelkader with Zach Parise on Tuesday — either the much-derided practice lines were a ruse, or Tortorella simply came to his senses — the Americans couldn’t match the Canadian firepower.
Kane had an assist in the game, but now hasn’t scored in international play since the semifinals of the 2010 Olympics — a nine-game drought.
“You want to show up for your country, and you want to be able to produce,” Kane said. “I obviously didn’t do my job this tournament.”
Things started well enough, with Ryan McDonagh crashing the net and putting Team USA up 1-0 just 4:22 into the game, punctuating it with a fierce fist pump.
The lead lasted all of 89 seconds.
Matt Duchene and Corey Perry scored 14 seconds apart to put Canada up 2-1, with Toews assisting on Perry’s tally, which bounced in off his torso. Six minutes later, a failed Max Pacioretty clear hit Brent Burns, bounced over American defenseman Erik Johnson’s stick, and found Duchene all alone in front. He beat Jonathan Quick for his second goal and a 3-1 lead. The only stat the Americans, who dumped-and-chased while Canada built speed through the neutral zone, led through one period was hits, 22-6 — both because that’s Tortorella’s style, and because Canada had the puck most of the time.
Patrice Bergeron made it 4-1 at 8:50 of the second after John Tavares undressed Matt Niskanen on a drive to the net. From there, the Canadians toyed with the Americans, killing clock and playing keep-away. Desperately chasing in the third, the Americans hit three posts and had several scoring chances before T.J. Oshie finally got one past Carey Price with 2:32 to go.
But it was too late, and the team was that built with the expressed purpose of beating Canada simply wasn’t good enough. And no level of grit, jam and “compete level” could change that. With the NHL’s participation in the 2018 Olympics very much in doubt, the Americans could be stewing on this one for a long time.
“It’s definitely frustrating being an American and having these opportunities and having nothing to show for it,” Kane said. “It’s tough right now, for sure. You’ve got two years to sit on this one. And then, when that [next] time comes, hopefully you’re there giving your best for your country.”