By Andrew Imber
I had hoped that today would have been a day for apologizing. A day where the United States put on a great performance against Finland and brought home a Bronze Medal. A day where the result could have made me admit some of my words yesterday were harsh and unfair.
Unfortunately, all today did was prove my thoughts yesterday were legitimate, and if nothing else, understated.
The United States showed up for twenty minutes on Saturday, only to disappear and allow Finland to run away with a 5-0 laugher. Instead of grabbing its second consecutive medal (something that would have been a huge accomplishment for this organization), the game quickly turned into an embarassment and late game meltdown. Though Finland was a solid team throughout the tournament, it was still a team missing all of its top four centers. There was no reason for the United States to crumble as they did.
So now, a team that went into the Olympics with Gold Medal aspirations will leave with nothing. As Jeremy Roenick said on the broadcast today, “…fourth place may as well be last.”
That may sound harsh, considering the United States’ track record on large ice surfaces. Some would consider the fourth place finish a decent result, and a promising sign for the future.
Maybe some other time. Maybe years and years ago.
Not anymore. Not with America churning out better and better players. Not for a team that was loaded with some of the best scorers in the NHL and definitely some of the best goaltending. Maybe fourth place in 2006 would have been acceptable (and certainly would have been an improvement on what really happened that year), but that isn’t the case anymore.
We are at the point where The Stars and Stripes should be in the mix for Gold every single time. It shouldn’t be a question, but rather an assumption. That needs to be the case if we ever want to be given the respect that we want in the hockey world.
As I said yesterday, the blame of this tournament has to fall squarely on coach Dan Bylsma and staff, as well as the management team. Brooks Orpik has had a fine career and was a force for the United States in 2010. But when he’s in your top four due to the demands of a coach, while better options are forced to sit and watch from home, that is a major problem. When you have a team that is getting dominated, and you don’t do anything to adjust, that is a major problem. And when you can’t get your game going and end up melting down with penalties down the stretch of a big game as the score gets uglier, that is a major problem.
Maybe some of these thoughts were overreactions yesterday. After all, a one goal loss to what is considered one of the best international squads ever assembled isn’t an embarrassment, no matter how much we may have been dominated at times. But not after today’s result. Not after you allow a solid yet undermanned team to dismantle you and knock you completely off your game. That blame falls, again, on the coach, who had no answers when the team needed it most.
If the NHL is still involved in 2018, there are many questions. What will the forward core look like? The majority of the heart and soul of this team are in their primes right now, another reason why this result is so painful. Will 33-year-olds Backes, Kesler, Parise, Callahan and the rest be able to maintain this level of play with how physically they play the game? If not, do we have the guys to replace them? And who takes over the coaching role? Certainly Bylsma did not do enough to warrant consideration in the future, but few good coaching options exist for the United States. We can only hope these issues begin to clear up as the next crop of players take over. At the least, the defense looks young and impressive, with Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba set to join the solid core that already got valuable experience this year.
Still, there is little to bring comfort to an embarrassed fan base that certainly deserves to feel that way after today’s result. For as many casual fans that will have great memories of the United States victory over Russia in the round robin, Sochi will not be associated with good memories for anybody who knew what this team should have been able to do.