USA Men’s Hockey, Falters, Falls Short

By Mary Walsh

USA hockey fans watched their women lose to Canada last Thursday, by one goal, in overtime, during a 5 on 3 penalty kill. It was disappointing, heartbreaking. The men followed that up on Saturday with a loss so stunning it left me more baffled than emotional.

In my short time here I’ve realized that there’s big momentum swings with this team and … we just got to stay calm… When other teams come back on us like that, we know we have the firepower to score off the rush. We have a pretty good offensive team when we get going.

Something like that would have been nice to hear from someone on USA’s men’s Olympic hockey team Saturday. They didn’t say that. Riley Brace said it, after what turned out to be the last game the SF Bulls played at the Cow Palace. The team was gone a week or so later.

There was no national audience watching that game.  There were no big contracts on the line. The players had good reason to suspect they might be on the move soon. They didn’t have their country’s pride to uphold. They were just playing one ECHL hockey game, one night in San Francisco. Still, they took pride in a lead, they came back after falling behind, they played the game to win. They believed they could score. It doesn’t matter what level you are at, belief is necessary for getting a job done.

“Stay calm… We know we have the firepower to score off the rush…” No one on team USA said anything like that on Saturday after they were blown out 5-0 by Finland. You could argue that it is harder to score in that company. You could also argue that if you are in that company you can probably score against them.

Zach Parise said he was embarrassed, Jonathan Quick said they weren’t good. Both are warranted and truthful understatements.

I read one column that eviscerated Patrick Kane for his performance. I thought he was one of the few players really fighting until the end. When you are outnumbered you tend to make mistakes, but at least he was making something. He was shooting, he was getting break aways, he was engaged. I didn’t see that from many on his team. So he missed the penalty shots. How many skaters score those? Besides, that he drew the calls is more proof that he was trying to do something while the rest of his team was… not.

Is it easier to score when there’s no pressure? Perhaps. Many questioned how young teenage girls would cope with the pressure of Olympic figure skating. I think they were too young to grasp the full scope of that pressure, they might have been partly unaware of it.

But NHL players? Grown men, professionals used to playoffs? Surely they have some coping tactics in their satchels. Surely they were not knocked off their feet by the bright lights of the world stage.

So did they just not care enough? Did they not face enough adversity leading up to the last two games? Did they enter the contest with a “gold or nothing” mindset? Did some of them spend too much time with the Austrians? Did they believe too much, have too much confidence, not worry until it really was too late?

In the end it was just one game. Not one of seven chances, but one lone chance to avoid coming home empty-handed. Someone was going to lose, but to lose like that has to sting. Perhaps some of those players will return to the NHL with something to prove. Or maybe it was just one game, badly played.

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