If you think Brian Burke is happy to be undefeated and the No. 1 seed heading into the elimination part of the Olympic tournament, think again.
The chief architect of the U.S. Men’s Team blasted the overall play of his team while praising goaltender Ryan Miller in a brief session with the media between periods of the U.S. Women’s semifinal game against Sweden.
After playing the underdog card for the better part of a year, opponents may now start to call Burke’s bluff. The Americans are on top in the tournament with a 3-0 record and a stronger goal differential than defending Olympic champion Sweden.
So now is the time for Burke to downplay what his team has done well and point out where it needs to improve, and quickly.
“I’m not happy with the way we’ve played to this point,” said Burke, who has a close relationship with the Vancouver media after spending six years there as the general manager of the Canucks.
"It’s nice that we’ve gotten to this position but if we don’t crank it up this all goes for nothing.”
For starters, Burke says it will take a total team effort to move on, and so far that’s just not the case.
“We need all hands on deck,” he said. “Thank God we have some guys pulling on the rope, but we need everyone pulling on the rope.”
From here on out, things get tougher, even though the U.S. is the No. 1 seed and could likely see a rematch against Switzerland in the quarterfinals. Still, Burke said not to put too much stock in “winning” the preliminary round of the tournament.
“You didn’t see Canada’s best game last night. You didn’t see Sweden’s best game last night,” Burke said. “Everything gets ratcheted up now. We’ve got to ratchet it up, too, or everything is for naught. They don’t hand out any medals for finishing first in the preliminary round.”
Burke pointed to turnovers in the neutral zone that have led to too many scoring chances, and a lack of intensity particularly in the second period of the Canada game. He could have also mentioned too many odd-man rushes, especially late in the first two games.
Burke didn’t single out any players who need to turn their games up a notch, at least not in public, but did give shout outs to several players who have had monster games.
“Brian Rafalski may have played the best game of his life last night. I thought Jack Johnson had a real strong game,” said Burke, adding that he’ll make sure the players in the U.S. locker room know how he feels.
“I thought that Ryan Kesler was a warrior last night. From the opening faceoff to the last minute of the game I thought he was a gladiator. He was good on face-offs, he was physical, he used his foot speed. He was a pain in the ass to play against. I loved him last night and thought he was great.”
But Burke knows better than anyone that a hot goaltender can carry you a long way, especially in a short tournament.
“That’s why Ryan Miller may be the best goaltender in the league so far this season,” Burke said after Miller’s 42-save effort on Sunday.
“We got out-chanced 2 to 1 last night and our goaltender stole us the game. People can say that Canada didn’t play well. I don’t agree with that. Except for the goaltending position we didn’t deserve to win the game last night.”
Burke seemed to shy away from the impending goaltender controversy with Canada, heaping praise on all three netminders – Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury.
“Canada is in a really luxurious position of having an embarrassment of riches at that position,” Burke said. “You’re choosing apples and apples there. You’re talking about three great players there.”