It wasn't supposed to be like this.
It wasn't supposed to end like this, not after four years ago.
No, this was supposed to be different, supposed to be better. Here they were, cruising through the opening rounds, young, wild and free, nary a challenge. It was their time.
And then it wasn't. What seemed so golden, so destined, lost its luster. There may not even be a luster when all is over.
Yes, Team USA lost to Canada, in heartbreaking fashion by a score of 1-0. Jamie Benn scored the lone goal in the second period for the Canadians and Carey Price was dominant.
But what happened? What went wrong?
This was a team that cruised through the opening rounds, scoring 20 goals and allowing just seven. They beat Russia in dramatic fashion and trampled over Slovakia, Czech Republic and Slovenia.
The Americans were no longer the underdogs. They were the favorites.
And then, nothing.
No offense. In fact, the team was putrid on three power-play opportunities, as per Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times:
Three straight power plays for the Americans, and three straight bad power plays for the Americans. #Sochi2014— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) February 21, 2014
But it wasn't just their offense, or lack thereof. The defense seemed, for the first time all tournament, shaky, as per Joe Haggerty of the Boston Globe:
Jonathan Quick bailing out #TeamUSA after horrendous turnover from Brooks Orpik in the D-zone. US defense having hard time today vs Canada— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) February 21, 2014
And when they did have the puck, they couldn't do much with it, as Chris Peters of The United States of Hockey noted:
Team USA's puck management (when they have it) has been pretty dreadful. Not dealing with pressure well.— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) February 21, 2014
Simply put, if it wasn't for Jonathan Quick, this game would not have been so close:
Quick was Team USA's best player but not enough. Canada the better team. Benn, Carter, Price, Doughty, Sharp, Bergeron all had moments.— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) February 21, 2014
Canada played stifling defense, and as Brooks Orpik told Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, there was no room in the middle:
Orpik: "It's disappointing. I felt like we were getting better and better every game. They really stuffed the middle.'— Dejan Kovacevic (@Dejan_Kovacevic) February 21, 2014
It's not that the U.S. wasn't talented enough. Quite the contrary. It's that Canada was a better team. They forechecked hard, pinched down in the defensive zone and attacked the puckcarrier like gnats.
Dan Bylsma noted to Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the Americans couldn't adjust:
Bylsma on passivity: 'The Canadians played a fast game. Came at us with 20 guys, with speed, for 60 minutes. We weren't able to counter.'— Dejan Kovacevic (@Dejan_Kovacevic) February 21, 2014
They took away the middle, which took away rushes up the middle, something that Patrick Kane likes to do.
Ah, yes. Patrick Kane. The Americans' most talented goal scorer. He didn't score all tournament. He couldn't take the puck from the red line, skate in with speed and whip off a slap shot. As a result, the U.S. didn't have its game-breaker.
That's what good defense does. That's what hard checking does, as Bruce Arthur of the National Post noted:
How many times have Phil Kessel or Patrick Kane had room to operate with the puck? Canada's checking so hard in this game.— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) February 21, 2014
This is what went wrong for the Americans. The Canadians played tight defense and the U.S. couldn't respond. For all the talent on this roster, there wasn't enough to get past good old-fashioned defensive hockey.
And here's where things get worse. The U.S. will take on Finland for the bronze medal Saturday morning. And how does Finland play?
Defensively minded. As Jeff Z. Klein of the New York Times wrote about Finland's performance against Sweden: "Finland is playing a neutral-zone trap, playing for the counterattack."
The U.S. has less than a day to adjust, to figure out how to play proactive hockey against a reactive defense. They'll need Jonathan Quick to come up big again, and they'll need Patrick Kane—and Ryan Kesler and Zach Parise—to step things up.
It's not the end. A bronze medal is still nice.
But to not beat big brother Canada? After coming oh-so-close four years ago. After looking like the better team throughout the tournament. After looking like the best team in the tournament.
This was a team built for the big ice. Built for speed. Built to beat the Canadians.
And they fell short. So short. Just like four years ago—all over again.