It is an excellent question. The American hockey squad went 0-3 in the tournament. They were outscored 11-5. Everybody knows this. So why pile on the bus? The answer to that is a bit simple.
Most have covered the same old narratives to the point where even the coaches and architects have grown progressively colder. That was seen in the press conferences. Linking to those would be a waste of time and energy. This is about going err trying to head forward.
A 1996 like team was never going to be a 2016 team like Canada. Canada not only was in the heads of Team USA, they could be accused of taking up prime real estate there. It was frightening to see the deer in headlights look from a group of professionals. This was see not once but twice. That was just against our friends from the 49th parallel.
When the US constructed this team, quite a few foresaw tons of trouble. This was not some out of the air thing. As much as everyone wants to hammer John Tortorella (some of it fairly), people above him did not see the writing on the wall. This is despite the fact that it was written in 72 point Comic Sans MS font.
The Gel Or Lack Thereof
This was a United States team that had to get off to a good start. Everyone knew it. They played better downhill. Throw all the clichés out there that one can. Getting shutout by Jaroslav Halak and Team Europe was a surprise but losing to them was not. Defense was not a strong suit of this squad and opposing countries knew it. They did not have to go right at them all the time like Canada did but just enough to produce results.
It was a group the United States should have been able to pull two wins from. They did not have to play Team North America, Russia, or Sweden. This was an unmitigated failure from top to bottom. Everything from throwing players under the bus to sub-par production time and time again. Heart over actual talent never works in this day and age in short tournaments. The funny part is when the United States won the first pre-tourney game, that was when I knew they were in deep trouble.
That first game was a win over Canada but consider the Canadians hit several posts, a cross bar, and had wide open chances galore. Never mind the shot edge but the edge just from a play standpoint. Jonathan Quick played his best game but showed his tendencies too. The entire Team USA did. Video is a wonderful technology these days and squads can analyze over and over. Weaknesses were obvious and glaring. Adaptation could not happen either because of what was set up as far as philosophy of team.
A few good bounces still produced problems and that second game with Canada showed that the Americans could be shut down almost with ease. Keep them to the perimeter. Make their players play out of their comfort zone. It is virtually what every team did throughout the rest of the tournament. Exploit their defensive fundamental miscues.
It goes deeper. Joe Pavelski did not have his Joe Thornton. Patrick Kane did not have his Artemi Panarin or equivalent on the team. Plays were being made and chances were there but not goals. Obviously, a team has to outscore an opponent to win. It seemed almost everything else was there except the offense and when that broke down, the defense predictably suffered more as a result.
We can scream to the rooftops how a team of “American Snubs” could have beat the actual squad. They probably could have. There was time to prepare. Others teams do it. Team USA and its architects did not deem roster construction important. They went with heart. What they got was a lemon and skunk of a performance as almost expected.
John Tororella made many poor decisions. Justin Abdelkader with Patrick Kane was almost comical at one point. Zach Parise on an island almost when he arguably should have been benched at times was another. Very little meshed with this team. The defensive pairings never seemed to be quite on the same page. The forwards often got caught blowing out of their zone too early. It was a recipe made for disaster.
Players just could not quite move the puck fast enough too often. Time after time again, execution was just a half second off because this team could not gel. The chemistry was not there and never really was. Teammates did not seem to know where each other was on the ice. Only Finland seemed to be often as lost as the Americans. Turnovers were plenty, puck possession was among the worst, then the goalie breakdowns.
It all falls on the US and their advisory committee as well. They look like a rotating band of cooks which are too many as it is. So, what can be done in the short term since what everyone saw did not work.
What Now Team USA?
The first thing is take time to regroup. This will be kept simple because “KISS” or keep it simple stupid really applies here. Ironically this squad stayed pretty healthy despite out hitting almost everyone. All joking aside, the Americans do not need to look at Canada. Just look at Team North America and how much fun they had playing the game. They played while the US at times just stood there. Yes, both teams were eliminated but one at least won two games and played at a pace we may never see again.
That being said, when the game is fun, it is contagious. When the game feels pressured, trouble comes. Players must be picked for their skill and potential more than their heart. This must change! Is it any surprise why the teams in May and December often perform pretty well. They have better skill and better coaching. Give them the best chance to gel with the right combination.
This was a United States team that was sold short before the drop of any puck. That cannot happen going forward. Lessen these committees to a select few. Don’t have rotating bands of men, keep it cohesive. Keep the coaching cohesive. Look at others teams and what they employ. This is not difficult.
Bagels in tournaments of this magnitude are looked at as abject catastrophes but this can be the truest lesson. If the US Hockey Program does not adapt now, it will follow them for years maybe decades. Remember that this is not 1980 or 1996. It is 2016. Team still means team but best on best means your best not your second or third best.
With that said, hopefully the powers that be in the United States hierarchy have figured out the error of their ways. Let’s see what happens next.