#360USA: USA disappoint at the World Cup of Hockey

Steve Brenner 07:00 27/09/2016
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Team USA found life tough against Czech Republic.

Phil Kessel just couldn’t resist. Sat at home when he should have been on the ice representing the United States at the World Cup of Hockey, the time was right for a well crafted tweet of the ironic variety.

The Stanley Cup-winning forward was a colossus for the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, producing the kind of displays the woeful US team were crying out for in Canada over the past few days.

His omission from the squad, however, was baffling. Three defeats from three were enough for the Americans to head back over the border in embarrassment, tails firmly between legs. The 4-3 loss to the Czech Republic – dubbed the weakest team on show – put the sorry seal on the worst tournament display from a US team since the infamous early exit from the 1998 Olympics.

“Just sitting around the house tonight w my dog,” Kessel tweeted after the second match defeat to Canada. “Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn’t put my finger on it.”

The stats back up Kessel’s annoyance, even if others were less than impressed.

“I understand there’s hard feelings if you weren’t picked for the team or whatever, but the comments are, I think, as a team guy and as a guy that stands by my team-mates win, lose or draw, it’s a little distasteful,” moaned Boston Bruins center David Backes.

If 10 goals in the play-offs weren’t enough, surely 26 strikes and 33 assists during the regular season should have done the trick. But no. In their eternal wisdom, coach John Tortorella and his cohorts thought they’d blow Canada out of the water with good old fashioned muscle. Lots of grit, blood, sweat and tears.

The overflowing of skill and craft which the Canadians had in abundance were, however, conspicuous in their absence when it came to the Americans.

Anaheim’s Cam Fowler, Kyle Okposo of Buffalo and Carolina’s Justin Faulk also had reason to be slightly miffed as they watched the dynamic hosts emphatically prove their class during the 4-2 win over the US.

Yet defeat against Canada – the best team in the tournament – won’t loom large on Tortorella’s epitaph. It was the woeful displays against Team Europe and the Czechs which rightly had alarm bells ringing.

Yes, decent players were missing. Yet this wasn’t a squad of bluffers. There were 10, 20 goal NHL stars available, including three of the league’s eight top scorers. Skill, speed and agility do the trick domestically so why rip up the script on the international stage, even if this tournament came at a time when most are gearing up for the new campaign?

Rustiness is unavoidable, though watching Canada and Russia clash in Toronto in front of a pumped up home crowd on Saturday night, any accusations of Sidney Crosby being off the pace and taking his eyes off the prize were way off target. He was on fire, scoring the opener and providing two assists as the Russians, whose star man Alex Ovechkin was anonymous, were dispatched 5-3 to set-up the best of three final against either Sweden or Team Europe – a collection of the best of the rest on that continent.

Crosby provided the kind of world class killer instinct the US so sorely missed.

“We’re not as deep as Canada skill-wise,” Tortorella said. “Not sure USA Hockey will like me saying that, but it’s the truth. It’s a situation where I still think, in our mind, we could not just skill our way through Canada.”

This was the first World Cup for 12 years and in the current sporting climate here, seeing the US totally flunk their lines hasn’t dominated the agenda. It was acute embarrassment from the hockey federation.

Team America rolled into town with the slogan ‘It’s Time’ supposedly adding purpose and focus to their campaign. Inspirational figures from the army were also called in to help create the kind of ruthless team dynamic aimed at blowing the Canadians away.

It didn’t work. Kessel, just like everyone else, couldn’t help but laugh.

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