TORONTO — Less than 20 hours after a gut-wrenching 1-0 loss to rival Canada in the Olympic semifinals in Sochi, the United States had to summon the will and the desire to play for a bronze medal against Finland.
They didn’t. They barely showed up at all in a dismal 5-0 loss to the Finns, who came out with pride and purpose. Now that they’ve been eliminated from the World Cup of Hockey, the Americans are insisting there won’t be a repeat performance Thursday night against the Czech Republic (also 0-2 and eliminated) in the group-stage finale
“You’re putting the USA sweater on, and we haven’t won a game in this tournament,” said Patrick Kane, one of a handful of Americans who seemed to actually care during that bronze-medal game. “We’ve got to prove to ourselves we can win a game here, and we saw what happened last time in the 2014 Olympics. It might have been a little bit tougher to get up for that bronze-medal game when we were there to get gold. We’re in a position now where, even though we’re not really playing for anything, we’re not going to let that mistake happen twice.”
Zach Parise said that poor effort is something Team USA still feels badly about.
“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?’ Even with the disappointment of the night before. It’s a learning thing. I know nothing’s on the line tomorrow, but you still play with a lot of pride. We’ll come and play hard just like there is a spot on the line to get in.”
Phil Kessel, a five-time 30-goal scorer and a postseason hero this past spring, lit the Internet up with a snarky tweet about being left off the Team USA roster. Immediately after Team USA’s loss, he tweeted, “Just sitting around the house tonight w my dog. Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn’t put my finger on it.”
David Backes wasn’t happy about the tweet.
“As a team guy and as a guy that stands by my teammates — win, lose or draw — it’s a little distasteful and aggravating. But everyone’s got a Twitter account and you can have freedom of speech to say whatever you want, so be it. But those comments don’t get lost in the fray, and those comments are there and have been read, and I think will be remembered.”
Rumors of the demise of American hockey were greatly exaggerated, based on Team North America’s exhilarating run through the group stage. The 23-and-under team knocked off Sweden 4-3 on Nathan MacKinnon’s goal in a breathless overtime period. With Americans such as Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Shayne Gostisbehere and Brandon Saad, the future of American hockey looks bright. Imagine what Team USA could have done with those guys in this tournament.
“I don’t think too many guys are thinking about it,” Saad said. “You see the [USA] game, and you see what happened, but we’re here to represent North America, and hopefully one day, the U.S.”
North America raced out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, outshooting mighty Sweden 11-1 at the start.
“I don’t know how many breakaways they had, it was a little embarrassing, the first 10 minutes,” Sweden’s Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “I felt pretty old out there, the first 10 minutes.”
North America needs Finland to beat Russia on Thursday to advance. Sweden locked up a spot with the overtime loss.
As the Crow flies
With Canada having clinched a spot in the semifinals and playing on back-to-back nights, coach Mike Babcock gave Corey Crawford the start over Carey Price. What’s notable is that Crawford’s starting ahead of reigning Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby, meaning he’s essentially been elevated to No. 2 in the Canadian pecking order.
When asked why he’s going with Crawford, Babcock said: “Three Cups (it’s actually two). Played great in the exhibition for us. It’s hard, anybody could start for us, they’re all really good goaltenders. But its what Crow’s résumé is all about — composure under pressure and winning situations.”
Crawford wasn’t tested much by Europe, stopping 19 of 20 shots in a 4-1 win, only giving up a goal to Marian Hossa. Jonathan Toews had two goals and an assist.