Boyz To Men

Fast Start, Tough Finish Leaves U.S. Team Wanting More From Olympic Experience

They came from some of the finest colleges and universities in the country. Schools like Harvard, Michigan and Boston College.

They take challenging classes in subjects such as philosophy, chemistry and English literature as they juggle the demands of life as student-athletes.

But there are some lessons they don’t teach in school. Such as you don’t have to win all the games in an international tournament, you just have to win the right ones. Or it takes a full 60 minutes to knock out an Olympic opponent.  

Welcome to the school of hard knocks, boys. You may have aced the early quizzes, but you didn’t fare so well on the final exam.

After winning their first three games in impressive fashion and earning the top seed in the tournament, the U.S. couldn’t seal the deal against Slovakia, surrendering the tying goal just 43.7 clock ticks away from the semifinals before losing in a shootout.

“It was a lot of fun watching them become a team in a short period of time.”

–David Quinn

Call it the curse of Olympic quarterfinals past. This marked the second straight Olympic exit for the boys in the red, white and blue by a cruel twist of fate courtesy of the hockey gods.

“You can’t script how you want things to go in life or in hockey,” said Straus Mann, who teamed with Drew Commesso to form a formidable duo between the pipes for the U.S.

“It’s about learning things and taking what life gives you and trying to make lemonade out of lemons. We’ll let it sink in for a bit here and I think everyone will learn something at the end of the day, especially the young guys on this team, that will serve them well moving forward.”

With an average age of 25, the U.S. came to Beijing with the youngest team in the tournament, a fact that was thrown in their face well before they even hit the ice. If it’s true what they say that youth is wasted on the young, someone forgot to tell that to these high-flying Americans.

They overmatched a Chinese team packed with North American homegrown talent before flying past a bigger, stronger and older Canadian squad, and gutted out a hard-fought, physical battle against Germany, the defending silver medalists to claim the top seed and an important bye into the quarterfinals.

With a day to rest and wait for their next opponent, the comparisons sprang up to another group of college kids who staged some kind of miracle on the ice in Lake Placid, N.Y.

That was 42 years ago, and the U.S. has long proven on the international arena that they are no longer in the miracle business. Not to mention some of these kids were barely out of diapers when Disney released the movie “Miracle” in 2004.
“I don’t really have any specific memories of the Olympics, but I will say I’ve seen that movie a thousand times, and it gives me goosebumps every single time,” said Nathan Smith, a 21-year-old Florida native who is living proof of the 1980 team’s impact on hockey around the U.S.
“It’s pretty unbelievable to think that I had a chance to go there and do the same thing.”

They came oh so close to writing their own miracle chapter into the hockey history books. A favorable puck bounce here and a hit post there and the next thing you know we could have heard the familiar refrain of “U-S-A, U-S-A” echoing through the rafters of Beijing’s National Indoor Stadium.

“It was a lot of fun watching them become a team in a short period of time,” said head coach David Quinn. “Obviously losing this game hurts, and it hurts a lot, but I think we represented our country exactly the way USA Hockey wants our team to represent our country.”

More than just their speed and youthful exuberance, this was a team that came together quickly and meshed well as the veteran players discovered a second dip in the fountain of youth courtesy of the 15 collegians on the roster.

It’s a formula that worked well four years ago in PyeongChang, South Korea, and if a little is good, more must be better.

“I could see it from 2018 with [former collegians] Ryan Donato, Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway so I knew the impact the college kids could have,” Brian O’Neill, the only returning member of the 2018 team, said about this year’s team.

“Most of those college players are going to have a better pro career than I ever had. They have their entire careers ahead of them. A lot of us are at the end of our careers. That’s what is so exciting about playing in this tournament with them.”

It didn’t take long to discover that these kids can play. As if there was any doubt. And they did it against the big boys on the biggest stage in the game. No stage is too big and no situation is too daunting for the next generation of American stars.

“I think the game’s in safe hands. If anything the last few years have shown that age in terms of youth is irrelevant,” said 29-year-old Kenny Agostino.

“You see it in the NHL and you saw it in a tournament like this on the big stage. If you could play, you could play. Age is just a number.”

Years down the road, maybe less, Andy Miele will be sitting at home with friends watching an NHL game or maybe a future Olympic hockey tournament and point out Jake Sanderson or Brendan Brisson or Matty Beniers and say, “See that guy? I knew him when he was a just a college kid. We played together on the 2022 U.S. Men’s Olympic Team. We’re good friends.”

Then he’ll think back to his time inside the Beijing Olympic bubble and the opportunity of a lifetime that fell in his lap when NHL players stayed home. He’ll think about how much fun he had leading this team and how close they came to staging their own “miracle.”

“I’m just sad it’s over. This was probably the last big thing in my career,” said the 31-year-old team captain who is also a former Hobey Baker Award winner.

“I’m happy that I got to know these guys. They’re going to have great futures ahead of them. I’ll be able to follow their careers and I’ll definitely enjoy that.”

Issue: 
2022-03

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Who is your favorite American player?
Auston Matthews
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Jason Robertson
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Tage Thompson
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Matthew Tkachuk
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Patrick Kane
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Other
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Total votes: 324