Olympic Hockey 2014: Biggest Takeaways from the Bronze-Medal Game
What was supposed to be an outstanding game between two ultra-motivated teams turned into a whitewash in a matter of 11 seconds. The United States and Finland played to a 0-0 tie through the first period.
One team bothered to show up for the second frame, while the other was seemingly more interested in taking boneheaded penalties.
Finland would score two goals, separated by only 11 seconds in the second period, and the floodgates were open from that point on, ultimately leading to a decisive 5-0 victory for Finland. The Americans went from gold-medal hopeful to embarrassment in a 48-hour period that saw them get shutout twice to finish a forgettable 2014 Winter Games with no medals to show for a strong preliminary round.
For hockey fans, there was plenty to cheer about, though—namely, Teemu Selanne's epic and historic performance. Here's a few things we learned during the game.
Scoring Became a Problem for United States
The United States went out of its way to bring a group of players to Sochi that had a lot of "intangibles." Like any team that Brian Burke has anything to do with, grit was valued more than skill. Debate all day about why Bobby Ryan, Kyle Okposo and Keith Yandle were left off the team.
The simple fact is that the Americans couldn't score enough after getting out of the preliminary round. All the blocked shots and gusto in the world don't matter if you can't crack a 1-4 scheme on the big ice.
America's roster couldn't punch through Canada's defensive posture or Finland's strong neutral-zone play, and the team will now be going home empty-handed because of it.
The United States scored zero even-strength goals against Russia, Canada and Finland in this tournament and were shut out in the final two games of play.
While players like David Backes and Dustin Brown were supposed to be leaders for the U.S., they looked dejected and beat before they were even down 2-0 against Finland. Patrick Kane missed two penalty shots, and you'd think that those were game-deciding shots based on how the unconverted chances deflated America's bench.
Brian Burke's Team Structures Don't Work
Since the 2006-07 season, Burke has been chasing a ghost.
He won the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks that season—a team that played a rough-and-tumble style—thanks in large part to Canadians Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Since watching those bruising Ducks hoist the Cup, Burke has seemingly become confused about why Anaheim was able to prevail in the first place.
That roster was big and played heavy, but that's not the only reason the Ducks were able to earn that banner. They were truculent and they had skill. For some reason, Burke forgets that Chris Pronger, Getzlaf and Perry aren't just goons.
They're good hockey players, too.
Not because they hit, but because they hit and score. The United States (like the Toronto Maple Leafs and now the Calgary Flames) were pieced together to grind out wins, but the goals just weren't there to support that style of play.
It's impossible not to look at those two goose eggs against Canada and Finland and wonder whether Jack Johnson or Ryan could have made an impact. They were left off the roster because they weren't intense enough, though.
The Americans failed to come through with their blue-collar approach and are headed home as the No. 4 team because of it.
Teemu Selanne Gets a Fairy-Tale Farewell
Teemu Selanne has been the face of international Finnish hockey since 1988. He made his debut for the Finnish team during the '88 European Junior Championship, scoring 16 points in six games. Several of his current Olympic teammates hadn't even laced up a pair of skates for the first time yet.
The Finnish Flash had an outstanding going-away party in Sochi. He scored four goals for Finland, including two against the United States to lock up the bronze medal.
He became the oldest men's ice hockey medal winner in Olympic history at 43. Earlier in the tournament, Selanne became the oldest player to score a goal in the Winter Games. Just an outstanding tournament for a living legend.
He didn't get the gold that he was looking for, but a fourth Olympic medal is an impressive accomplishment for Selanne.
Jonathan Quick Was the Wrong Call
Jonathan Quick stood on his head against Russia in the preliminary round and was superb against Canada in the semifinal. He was absolutely exposed against Finland, though.
The Los Angeles Kings netminder is known for his aggressive style of play. He typically pushes out beyond the blue paint and tries to completely shut off any angle that the shooter may have. That style works fine on the smaller NHL-sized rinks.
On international ice, though? Fail to control a rebound or see a defender blow an assignment, and it's as good as a goal. Finland passed around Quick on several occasions in the bronze-medal game. We'll never know if Ryan Miller would have been able to make those saves, but he plays deeper in the crease to begin with.
Head coach Dan Bylsma knew how the large ice could affect Quick's style of play and rolled him out anyway. After what he did against Russia and Canada, it would have been impossible to bench him. Should Quick have been the guy in the first place, though?
Finland Defines Teamwork
Heading into the bronze-medal game against the United States and Sweden in the semifinals, Finland was short three of its top four centers and was icing a roster that featured 11 non-NHL players. On paper, it was a team that the U.S. should have had better luck with.
The Americans had stronger names at nearly every position, but the Finns locked down the way they always do in international play and leaned heavily on a team identity. They never stopped skating and shooting and didn't start to take dumb penalties when things weren't going their way.
No individual player ever tried to snap out of the mold on his own. They played for the Finnish flag and for the honor of their teammates. 2014 isn't the first time we've seen this happen from Finland. Since the NHL started sending players to the Olympics, the Finns have failed to medal just once.
A remarkable showing from a banged-up and bruised lineup.