On the 34th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice, the U.S. men’s hockey team would need another miracle to beat Finland and medal in this year’s Winter Olympics. Team USA came out flat against a team it should have beaten, falling 5-0 in the bronze medal game. This was a team that came into Sochi with lofty gold-medal expectations, but fell well short of them after back-to-back shutout losses, missing the podium completely. So what went wrong?
The biggest fault for the U.S. was the lack of scoring depth. General Manager David Poile went with a more defensive-minded forward corps to shut down opponents and only a handful of proven scorers. The problem was big names and previous Olympians — Zach Parise, Patrick Kane and Ryan Kessler did not score as expected. Parise, who was awarded the captaincy after leading Team USA in points at the 2010 games, had only one goal in Sochi. Kane, Team USA’s best natural scorer, did not have a single goal in the Olympics and missed two penalty shots in the bronze medal game.
The U.S. outscored opponents 15-4 in the group stage, where they played inferior opponents. However, the Americans looked lost in defeats to Canada and Finland in the elimination round, where they faced much stiffer competition. Against Canada, the Americans were chasing players in their own zone for most of the game, and when they did possess the puck, they were one-and-done in Canada’s zone. Give credit to Canadian goalie Carey Price for not giving up many second-chance opportunities, but the Americans were completely outworked in battles along the boards and in front of the net. Although the score does not indicate it, Team USA was outplayed in every zone by Canada.
The next day, the Americans looked crushed from their loss to Canada, and it carried over onto the ice. Team USA played uninspired in a deserved 5-0 humiliation.
This U.S. team was equally as talented as either Canada or Finland, but the difference seemed to be in the system of play. The Americans were unable to get any forechecking going against Canada or Finland. Both teams were able to easily leave their own zone, which led to breakdowns defensively for the U.S. In the Canada game, Team USA was unable to match their line changes with Canada’s offensive changes. This constantly led to Canada having favorable mismatches and allowed them to dominate the style of play. The blame here has to go to U.S. coach Dan Bylsma, who was completely outcoached and made no serious in-game adjustments to try to spark Team USA’s sluggish offense.
So whether it was the underperforming offense or the unsatisfactory coaching, Team USA will come home empty-handed and full of regret. With the NHL’s participation in question for the 2018 Winter Olympics, the image of Kane crying on the ice after a dream-crushing defeat to Canada may be the lasting impression of a team that looked so promising and fell so far in just two days’ time.