USA Hockey Suffers Total World Cup Humiliation


USA Hockey has no choice but to go back to the drawing board in team design and player selection after its World Cup of Hockey debacle…

Team USA had already been eliminated from any acceptable World Cup of Hockey result before its final game Thursday, Sept. 22. However, a loss in that contest to Team Czech Republic increases the failure of USA Hockey.

What a difference two years makes. The teams that met for the bronze medal in the Sochi Olympics went winless in the World Cup of Hockey.

In fact, neither Team USA nor Team Finland earned even a point. Every other team earned at least three over the three games.

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Team Finland had a worse goal differential and did not have to face the best team in the World Cup of Hockey. However, Team USA is easily the greater underachiever.

The Americans came in with higher expectations. They also had the tournament’s worst team on paper in their group. Not coming away with at least one point is inexcusable.

Frankly, the excuses being made to this point ring hollow. They also do not reflect the values of Team USA captain Joe Pavelski.

He is always accountable and positive in post-game interviews in that role with the San Jose Sharks. To their credit, his American teammates have followed that lead and accepted responsibility.

San Jose can take some solace that Pavelski scored the first goal Thursday. Still, two goals and two assists in four games is not up to his standards.

The performance of the entire team did not match its talent. This is on the players.

Team Canada's forward #19 Mark Scheifele goes in on Team USA's goaltender #35 John Gibson as he makes a huge save during the December 30th game in Ufa, Russia at the 2013 World Junior Championship. Mandatory credit: USA Hockey
Team Canada’s Mark Scheifele goes in on Team USA’s goaltender John Gibson at the 2013 World Junior Championship but both were on Team North America for the World Cup of Hockey. USA Hockey /

A close loss to Team Europe and win over Team Czech Republic changes the discussion. Decisions become explanations rather than excuses for their performance. However, it is vital USA Hockey evaluates everything.

True, Team USA lost young talent to Team North America. However, few of those players would have made their nation’s team. Meanwhile, needed and available scorers were left off the roster.

True, USA hockey may have built the team differently having Jack Eichel and others available. That simply does not compare to leaving reigning Conn Smythe-contender Phil Kessel off a team lacking scorers as a reason for failure.

The decision to build a gritty team made sense. It played to American strengths. Coach John Tortorella was right admitting Team USA could not match the talent of Team Canada.

The problem is Team USA had no grit, either. It never answered opposition scores. Out-of-position defenders allowed many of those goals.

USA Hockey actually created a team that reflected neither its captain nor coach. A team with no identity has no chance to win a World Cup of Hockey medal.

Tortorella is also the wrong coach for a team without grit. In fact, he is probably the wrong choice for any team with egos to challenge his. He came out of the gates proclaiming he would bench any player that kneels during the national anthem.

Tortorella is right that a national anthem protest would be inappropriate for a player representing the United States. That is different than expressing concern for injustice as Colin Kaepernick and others have, however poorly at times.

Oct 3, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; The San Jose Sharks starting line looks on during the national anthem during the game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Player protests during the national anthem has become a lightning-rod issue in the United States. Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports /

The problem as Chris Chelios pointed out on the ESPN broadcast is that Tortorella was not asked the question. Thus, his declaration comes across as a threat or at least message about who is in charge.

Tortorella started things off on the wrong skate by talking about loving this country for freedom while restricting player expression. It showed limited thinking to declare kneeling as wrong given its effectiveness in expressing reverence. What if someone wanted to pray for the nation during the anthem?

Coaching choices, roster choices and even leadership choices have to be examined after this debacle. Missteps must teach USA Hockey what the Sharks learned to reach the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals.

Teams succeed by playing to their identity. Players must be defensively responsible. Coaches have to be on the same page with the dressing room.

USA Hockey needs to make better decisions in those areas. Then the most important thing is that future rosters need to be built on more speed and skill.