SOCHI, Russia — It’s hard to look at the positives. Really hard, right now.
So soon after such an embarrassing defeat for the United States men’s hockey team, it’s easier to focus on, say, the comments of Jonathan Quick and agree there was “no reason” for the Americans to “show up and not piss a drop” against Finland.
Except, of course, for the fact there totally was a reason. That being last night’s devastating 1-0 loss to Canada in the semifinals — a loss that meant there would be no revenge for 2010 and no match-up with Sweden for gold. For a team that came halfway around the world expressly for just that — a shot at gold — can anyone be surprised that, when mere bronze was on the line, the effort wasn’t there?
“Losing that game (to Canada), it took a lot out of us,” said coach Dan Bylsma, admitting what was so obvious to anyone watching today’s contest at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.
No, Quick’s not wrong that the professionals on the U.S. team “play back-to-backs all year long” in the NHL. However, we’re not talking about a loss in New Jersey, with a chance to regroup the next night on Long Island. This is the Olympics, and these guys are only human. They wanted gold so badly, and they felt they had the team to get it.
Maybe nobody wants to hear it right now, but despite the way the Games ended, there were positives for the Americans to take out of them.
Take Cam Fowler. Just 22 years old, he got his first taste of Olympic experience, on a blue line that also featured youngsters Kevin Shattenkirk, 25, John Carlson, 24, Ryan McDonagh, 24, and Justin Faulk, 21.
“Personally, as a player it can only help for me,” said Fowler. “I proved to myself that I can play and I can compete with the best hockey players in the world, and that’s good for me going on in my career.”
And that wasn’t all he picked up.
“I think I’ve learned a lot too about disappointment, and just the overall feeling you have when you let a lot of people down,” he said. “That’s a tough thing to take.”
Veteran Finnish defenseman Sami Salo was asked how his team was able to get motivated for the bronze-medal game after losing in the semis to a fierce rival, just like the Americans did.
Salo said it was all about what had happened in previous Olympics, and the wisdom gained.
“We had a similar situation in Vancouver,” he said. “Losing to the U.S. in the semifinal by big numbers (6-1), then coming back strong against the Slovaks in the bronze game. We were really looking forward to giving something back after losing to the U.S. in Vancouver.”
He added: “It’s just the experience of this group. We had a brief meeting after [losing to Sweden) that you can’t worry about that. Our goal coming to this competition was to get a medal. We still had one game left, one chance to get that medal, and we just regrouped and…unbelievable.”
There is still hope for U.S. hockey at the world’s highest level. Great hope, in fact. If the NHL commits to South Korea in 2018, just think of the blue-liners the Americans could roll out. Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba are only 19. If all goes to plan, both should be ready for the big time by then, joining Ryan Suter and some or all of the guys mentioned above, plus other strong candidates.
At the moment, Canada and Sweden have the best collection of defensemen on the planet. It’s no coincidence those two countries will be meeting Sunday for gold. The blue line matters. A lot.
For now, though, what happened the past two nights is tough to accept.
“If we’re honest about this, these last two games, we’ve had better performances in the tank and it didn’t come to the forefront,” said forward David Backes.
“That’s the disappointing thing. If we played our butts off and were ousted, or had better teams best us, I think you can live with that. But when it’s less than stellar performances, especially in a tournament like this, it is going to be a sour, sour feeling.”