Olympic Hockey 2014: What Went Wrong for Team USA?

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Olympic Hockey 2014: What Went Wrong for Team USA?
Petr David Josek/AP Images

No gold. No silver. And now, no bronze.

A disappointing 2014 Sochi Olympics somehow found a way to become more so for Team USA on Saturday.

Finland blitzed Team USA for two goals in 11 seconds during the second period and cruised to a 5-0 victory in the bronze-medal game, sending the Americans home without a medal after winning silver at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. 

Once Finland scored those two goals, it was as if Team USA would have preferred to have been anywhere else in the world. After being outclassed by Canada in a 1-0 loss in the semifinal on Friday, Team USA showed up for the first period against Finland, but checked out once things went wrong.

It was an embarrassing loss for a team that had such great expectations.

Petr David Josek/Associated Press

"I think it started yesterday," Team USA captain Zach Parise said during a postgame interview on NBCSN. "We didn't show up to play a tough team in Canada and lost that game. And just today, once we gave up that first goal, it kind of deflated. They played like they had something to win, and we just shut it down.

"It's kind of disappointing, a little bit embarrassed for what happened, especially today. It wasn't a good effort by us."

This was a team some believed was good enough to win gold in Sochi and bring an end to a 34-year gold drought for the Americans. The yearly reminders of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team in the form of Mike Eruzione telling the same stories he’s told every year, like an over-served uncle at Thanksgiving talking about the time he scored four touchdowns in a high school football game no one wants to hear anymore, would fade into the shadows.

Instead, on the 34-year anniversary of that 4-3 win against the Soviet Union at Lake Placid, N.Y., Team USA showed just how far it is from Olympic gold. 

It’s probably going to take a miracle for NHL players to participate in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, so this was very likely the last chance at gold for this group of Americans.

Team USA at the Olympics since 1998
Year Site Result
1998 Nagano Finished 6th, won 1 of 4 games
2002 Salt Lake City Lost gold-medal game to Canada
2006 Torino Finished 8th, won 1 of 6 games
2010 Vancouver Lost gold-medal game to Canada
2014 Sochi Lost bronze-medal game to Finland

IIHF.com

It hardly matters. Unless the United States annexes Canada in the next four years, Team USA won’t even be the top team on its own continent. 

How did it go so wrong in Sochi?

It started well enough. A 7-1 win against Slovakia appeared to send a message to the rest of the field that Team USA was a team on a mission, and that the questions about general manager David Poile fielding a roster lacking in offense wasn't going to be an issue after all.

But as the tournament progressed, the victory became more and more hollow. Slovakia exited without a win in four games, and Team USA was dominated by the tournament’s best teams.

T.J. Oshie’s shootout heroics against Russia in the group stage won’t soon be forgotten, but it distracted from a deeper problem that could not be ignored as Finland buried the Americans in the bronze-medal game.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Against Russia, Canada and Finland, Team USA had zero even-strength goals. 

Patrick Kane missed on two penalty shots against Finland and had zero goals in six games.

“No excuses,” Kane said to the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Lazerus. “I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough to help the team win a medal. Obviously, I was expected to do a lot more. When you come over here and put zero goals and four assists in six games, that’s not the numbers you want to see. Definitely disappointing.”

For a team that believes it’s on the same level as the world’s hockey powers, Team USA looked more like a team that just picked up the sport a few weeks ago.

Or, more accurately, it looked more like a team whose country only discovered hockey in 1980.

It’s tough to peg the defense with much of the blame for this medal-less trip to Sochi. An 11-second hiccup from Ryan Suter and Ryan McDonagh against Finland is hardly enough to impugn the overall performance of the group that held Russia to two goals and Canada to one.

But when you’re a squad like Team USA where the margin for error is razor-thin, one mistake in judgment can be the difference between playing for gold and playing—if that’s what you can call what took place Saturday—for bronze.

It became clear as the tournament progressed that Brooks Orpik was miscast on this team. He’s tough and physical, but he simply did not have the foot speed to compete on the larger ice against the world’s best players. Canada’s one goal in the semifinal game was the result of Orpik being a stride late to cover Jamie Benn, and it cost Team USA in a game it didn’t deserve to win anyway.

Would Keith Yandle have been better suited for this team? It was hard to argue against that when the roster was unveiled Jan. 1, and it’s even harder to argue against now. 

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

An Olympic tournament requires a lot of things to align in order to win gold. Sometimes there are unlucky bounces or unfortunate matchups or a hot goaltender ends your tournament quicker than you deserve. 

That wasn’t the case for Team USA in Sochi. Canada was better in the semifinal and deserved to win. Finland was better and deserved to win, especially after Team USA clearly packed it in after 40 minutes and spent the final 20 minutes taking enough undisciplined penalties to make the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers shake their heads.

Team USA has taken a lot of strides forward with its development program since 1996, but the rest of the world hasn't been standing still. If there's anything to take from Sochi, it's that the Americans haven't closed the gap nearly as much as some believed.

If Team USA wanted to win gold in a future Olympics with NHL players, it may have to take, well, a miracle.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.

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