There’s an old military expression that goes something like, “One aw shucks wipes out a thousand attaboys.”
The same can be said in hockey.
The U.S. Men’s Olympic Team came to Sochi riding a wave of emotions and high expectations after their Cinderella run to the gold-medal game in 2010. The next four years did little to diminish the goodwill created by Ryan Miller, Zach Parise and Co. If anything it raised the bar even higher.
But like most things in life, hockey is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately type of game, and the events of the past don’t mean much when the puck drops in the present. If anything it just puts a bigger bull’s-eye on your chest.
The same holds true with an Olympic tournament. What you do in the preliminary round doesn’t mean much when you reach the do-or-die portion of the program.
Nobody knows that better than the US. Men’s Olympic Team who scored 20 goals in its first four games and then blanked in the last two.
“Scoring in a tournament like this, it’s really about an opportunity to get one goal,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “We didn’t get that goal in our last two games and it erased the 20 goals we scored before that.”
After the bronze-medal meltdown, the Americans talked about the difficulty of rebounding so quickly from the disappointment of a one-goal loss to their biggest rival.
While the Finns can probably relate, losing 2-1 to Sweden with Tuukka Rask sidelined with the flu, they managed to dig a little deeper than the Americans to go on to their fourth Olympic medal since NHL players started representing their countries in 1998.
“We felt that we had a group that could contend for a gold medal and then we had an opportunity to compete for a bronze medal, and now we’re going home empty handed,” said Cam Fowler, who was one of the young U.S. defensemen who performed well on the big ice. “The only feeling I have right now is disappointment.”
The high-flying Americans soared into the semifinals as the highest scoring team in the tournament through the first four games. The line of Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, who play together in Toronto, teamed up with versatile Joe Pavelski to create a nearly unstoppable trio.
More than that, a new hero seemed to step up every night, whether it was the newly-anointed “Meat Line” of Dustin Brown, David Backes and Ryan Callahan, or the grinding line of T.J. Oshie, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny.
The fact that Patrick Kane, the fifth leading scorer in the NHL at the break, was kept off the goal sheet was seemingly of little consequence. The dynamic Kane was getting his chances, and most felt it was only a matter of time before he would find the back of the net.
“You don’t need a 50-goal scorer in this game, and you don’t need 80 or 100 points in a season. It’s going to be 60 minutes and it will come down to that one goal,” Bylsma said prior to the Canadian game. And he was right.
The U.S. didn’t get the goal they needed against the Canadians, making Carey Price look like the second coming of Patrick Roy. And they weren’t up to the task against Rask, who might be the best goaltender on the planet right now.
But the U.S. had a pretty good goaltender holding down the fort at the other end. Jonathan Quick was given the starting nod over Miller, the hero of the 2010 Games, because of his “body of work” over the past several seasons, including a Stanley Cup title and a Conn Smythe Award to his credit.
The LA Kings netminder didn’t let anyone down, stopping 132 of the 143 shots he faced. He was also the unsung hero of the 3-2 shootout victory over the Russians, even though much of the kudos was showered on offensive star Oshie.
“It was a pleasure playing here and it was awesome to be a part of the Olympics again, and hopefully that chance comes again and we can redeem ourselves.”
— Patrick Kane
While there is no shortage of hard feelings over the way things ended, there were still flashes of brilliance, such as a six-goal outburst in the second period against Slovakia, the play of Kessel, who was named the tournament’s best forward, and the dramatic eight-round shootout victory against Russia that left the hosts in a funk for the rest of the tournament before bowing out in the quarterfinals.
“It’s definitely frustrating and disappointing,” said Kane, who couldn’t capitalize on two penalty shots that could have swung the momentum in the bronze-medal game. “I thought we had a really good team in the round robin and played well against the Czechs. Everything kind of turned with a one-goal loss, and today was just a really, really weird game.
“But it was a pleasure playing here and it was awesome to be a part of the Olympics again and hopefully that chance comes again and we can redeem ourselves.”
The U.S. certainly felt that it deserved a better fate in Sochi, but that’s the nature of international tournaments. Squandered opportunities and broken promises have a way of leaving a sour taste in the mouths of players and fans back home.
“What you learn over the course of an NHL career is to worry about the process. Some games the bounces just don’t happen for you or there’s a call and you lose,” said Backes, who couldn’t mask his disappointment of going home empty handed.
“But I think if we’re honest about these last two games, we had better performances in the tank and they didn’t come to the forefront.
“If we played our butts off and were ousted by better teams, you can live with that. But less-than-stellar performances in a tournament like this, where it’s one and done and you’re playing for your country, there really should be nothing held back. It’s going to be a sour, sour feeling for a while.”
USA 7, Slovakia 1
Feb. 13, 2014
At Shayba Arena
Similar to their silver-medal run four years ago in Vancouver, the U.S. came to Sochi looking to improve every game, making sure they hit their stride by the time the do-or-die portion of the tournament
Based on their 7-1 victory over Slovakia in the opener, they set the bar pretty high.
The U.S. scored six goals in the second period, including two 66 seconds apart, to break a 1-1 deadlock.
Using its dynamic team speed on the big ice surface, the U.S. steamrolled a tough Slovakian team whose lineup was loaded with NHL stars, including Zdeno Chara, Marian and Marcel Hossa and Tomas Tatar.
One of the questions coming into the tournament was where would the U.S. find its offense. Judging from this game there would be no shortage of contributors as Paul Stastny led the way with a pair of goals, and John Carlson, Ryan Kesler, David Backes, Phil Kessel and Dustin Brown pitched in with
a goal apiece.
“It was a good start for us. There’s always a lot of nerves and anxiousness to start these tournaments,” said captain Zach Parise. “For us to come out with a pretty convincing win makes you feel good.”
USA 3, Russia 2, SO
Feb. 15, 2014
At Bolshoy Ice Dome
It was a game the hockey world had circled on the calendar when the Olympic schedule was released, and by all accounts it lived up to all the hype.
After 65 minutes and eight rounds of a shootout, T.J. Oshie became an overnight sensation back home after scoring four goals in the shootout to give the U.S. a 3-2 victory in what was dubbed an instant Olympic classic.
The Russians drew first blood on a second-period goal by Pavel Datsuyk before Cam Fowler found the back of the net on the power play for the equalizer. The teams traded third-period goals as Datsuyk’s second of the game countered a power-play goal by Joe Pavelski.
A disallowed goal by Fyodor Tyutin late in the third period upset the capacity crowd that included Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and set the stage for the Oshie show in the shootout.
The St. Louis Blues’ star had to reach deep into his bag of tricks with each attempt, and U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick came up equally big on the defensive end.
“I did [feel pressure] a little bit, but then the puck hits your stick and you start skating, and it’s just you and the goalie,” Oshie said. “I was fortunate to keep [Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovski] guessing, and Quickie did a great job.”
USA 5, Slovenia 1
Feb. 16, 2014
At Shayba Arena
Phil Kessel notched a natural hat trick and Ryan Miller, the hero of the 2010 tournament, came within 18 seconds of the shutout as the U.S. rolled past a pesky Slovenia squad, 5-1.
Playing on a line with his Toronto Maple Leafs teammate James van Riemsdyk and the versatile Joe Pavelski, Kessel looked at home on the bigger Olympic ice. The extra room seemed to suit his smooth skating style and provided him with a little extra time and space to make things happen.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the win,” Kessel said after netting the first American Olympic hat trick since John LeClair in 2002. “We can still improve more, and we have to get a lot better.”
After playing three games in four days, the U.S. enjoyed the spoils that came with winning Pool A. The time off allowed Kessel to watch his sister Amanda, who scored a goal in the U.S. Women’s Team’s 6-1 victory over Sweden to advance to the gold-medal game.
Said Pavelski of his linemate, “It’s good that he’s on our side right now.”
USA 5, Czech Republic 2
Feb. 19, 2014
At Shayba Arena
The line of Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan and David Backes called themselves the “Meat Line,” but they proved that they were more than just the muscle as they created an offensive spark that lifted the U.S. Olympic Team to a 5-2 victory in the quarterfinals against the Czech Republic.
Matched up against the Czechs’ top line of Jaromir Jagr, Tomas Plekanic and Roman Cervenka, the “Meat Line” clogged the Czechs’ medal hopes the way a steady diet of Big Macs can close up an artery. They also scored a pair of goals off the sticks of Brown and Backes.
“At the end of the day it can’t be too much fun to play against us,” Brown said. “I don’t think it’s one thing in particular, it’s just us being in your face all over the ice.”
After being kept off the score sheet for the first three games, Zach Parise found the back of the net, and Phil Kessel added his tournament-leading fifth goal in the third period.
Canada 1, USA 0
Feb. 21, 2014
At Bolshoy Ice Dome
This time there would be no last-second heroics by Zach Parise, no back-and-forth overtime action and no golden goal from Sidney Crosby. Just a terrific hockey game played at an incredible pace.
In the end the Canadians played a solid defensive game and were able to muster just enough offense to dash the Americans’ golden hopes.
Jamie Benn may not be a household name outside of Dallas, but his goal early in the second period, off a great pass from defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, had every American muttering his name the morning after.
The U.S. came into the game as the highest scoring team in the tournament, but the Canadians managed to shut them down by never allowing the American thoroughbreds to gain speed through the neutral zone or their wide bodies to establish any sustained pressure on the forecheck.
With most of their offense coming from the perimeter, the Americans made Carey Price look like the second coming of Patrick Roy, pounding shots into his chest as if the Maple Leaf was a bull’s-eye.
“They played really well and we played pretty darn good,” David Backes said. “But the score will tell you not quite good enough.”
Finland 5, USA 0
Feb. 22, 2014
At Bolshoy Ice Dome
After missing out on the opportunity to play for a gold medal, head coach Dan Bylsma vowed that the team would not go home empty handed.
But the stellar goaltending of Tuukka Rask and a pair of goals from the ageless wonder Teemu Selanne propelled the Finns to a 5-0 victory that left the Americans grasping for answers about what went wrong in a tournament that started with such promise.
After missing the semifinal showdown with Sweden with the flu, the Boston Bruins’ netminder turned aside all 27 shots he faced, along with a pair of penalty shots from the ever-dangerous Patrick Kane.
Playing in his final Olympic game, Selanne became the oldest player at 43 years and 234 days to score an Olympic goal when he snuck a backhand shot past U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick.
The Finns scored a pair of goals 11 seconds apart in the second period to snap a scoreless tie, and added three more for good measure in the third to give Rask more than enough of an offensive cushion.
A tournament that started with such high hopes ended with an empty feeling as the U.S. was shut out in its final two games after scoring 20 goals in their first four.
“You saw almost two different teams from the first four [games] to the last two,” said David Backes.