2012 WJC: USA vs. Czech Republic Reviewed

Welp. If you’re a Team USA fan, your heart is a little heavy right now. The U.S. National Junior Team lost another shocker, this time to the Czech Republic, 5-2. Despite a better effort than it showed against Finland, the U.S. now faces the stunning reality that it likely has to play in the relegation round, as opposed to competing for a medal.

The only way the U.S. can get to the medal round is with two Finland losses or a Finland OT win and loss, combined with a U.S. win over Canada. If Finland defeats Denmark in regulation tonight, as anyone who’s been watching expects they will (as of this writing it’s 3-0 Finland), Team USA’s fate will be decided. Relegation round bound.

Coming up after the jump, a look at what happened and what this loss means overall.

In looking back at the 5-2 loss to the Czech Republic, one thing is abundantly clear. This is a team loss. You really can’t pinpoint one particular weakness as a reason the U.S. lost the game.

First off, you have to credit the Czech Republic, and in particular the brilliant goaltending of Petr Mrazek, who made 52 saves. Mrazek just may have stole this one away from the Americans. At the very least he took away momentum from the U.S. in key moments and kept his team confident. He made some huge saves and gave his team a huge boost when he gave Josh Archibald next to nothing to shoot at in a third-period penalty shot. On the ensuing shift, Mrazek stuffed several of Team USA’s best opportunities of the game. From then on, the upset was in the air. The Czechs capitalized on mistakes, just as the Finns did and made the U.S. pay.

The U.S. had to battle some attrition throughout the game, as Derek Forbort went down early in the contest and did not return. Dean Blais also revealed after the game that Charlie Coyle was sick, which explains why the forward barely saw the ice in the second and third periods. Still, there’s no excuses. The U.S. lacked depth, but still had the ability to overcome such difficulty.

As good as the Czechs played, you have to look up and down the U.S. lineup at the names on that roster and say to yourself, how did this team lose two of its first three games at the World Junior Championship?

There are a few simple reasons. Committing costly turnovers is a big one, particularly in the defensive zone. Another is lack of execution.

Dean Blais talked about the importance of getting bodies to the net and being aggressive on the forecheck. The U.S. accomplished the former in parts of the game, but utterly failed at the latter. In both of Team USA’s losses, the forecheck was seemingly non-existent. Without sustained pressure, the U.S. found itself on its heels as soon as it got into the offensive zone.

Both of Team USA’s goals came on the power play, but when you consider how much PP time the U.S. got, those two goals don’t sound all that great. Two goals in 14:33 of power-play time in a must-win game isn’t going to cut it. Not against most teams, at least, and especially not against a team with a good goaltender.

The U.S. took 93 shots in its last two games and scored a total of three goals. While the high shot total would lead one to believe that the U.S. was getting good chances, it really wasn’t the case in the last two days. Granted, the U.S. had better chances against the Czechs, but there still wasn’t an established net-front presence. Without that, Team USA, with all of it’s incredibly gifted forwards accomplished little offensively.

There’s really not much left to say about the game. The U.S. had an opportunity to bounce back from the tough loss to Finland and, while it answered with a better effort, that still wasn’t good enough.

I don’t think the players quit, by any means, but without much urgency in the early goings, the U.S. was never able to take control and when the game was taken away by the Czechs, there just wasn’t enough of a response.

It is completely fair for anyone to say this is one of the most disappointing pair of losses in U.S. World Junior history. With a team of this caliber, the result is almost unthinkable. No one, and I mean no one, figured the U.S. would be out of the medal race coming into the tournament. In fact, this is the first time since 1999 the U.S. is outside of the medal round (assuming Finland beats Denmark tonight).

With seven returning players, the returning coach from the 2010 gold-medal team, 20 drafted players on the roster, medals in each of the last two years and a group from one of the deepest birth classes the U.S. has produced, the only think left to do is shake your head and say, “Did that just really happen?”

The words embarrassing, humbling, humiliating all come to mind. Those terms might describe the way the players and staff feel right now. It’s certainly an overwhelming dissappointment for an organization that has built its U.S. National Junior program into an annual contender. This is a significant and confidence-shattering setback. With a group that was this good, how did this happen? That is the question that USA Hockey has to answer. It’ll be a difficult answer to come by.

The U.S. is only two years removed from sweeping each of the Under-20 tournaments (U17 Challenge, U18 World Championship, World Juniors) and now stares the relegation round in the face. How does one explain that? One doesn’t.

This result for the U.S. is going to get analyzed and picked apart for the next year. The selections made for the team will be second-guessed. However, I honestly don’t feel the selections were poor. You look at the roster and you say, this is a team that has a good mix of talent. Certainly enough to contend. Lack of depth on the blue line wasn’t going to get fixed by anyone outside of the roster. The forwards brought in appeared to have exactly what Blais was looking for in spades. Speed, skill and proficiency.

When USA Hockey goes back to the drawing board, and I’m guessing that will begin the second the tournament ends, there has to be a long look at what happened. Where it goes from here and how this can be prevented in the future.

I think it would be wrong to make sweeping criticisms of the organizational structure. These last two losses don’t feel like they were losses due to developmental ideologies or a problem with “the system.” Today’s loss in particular was a perfect storm of a motivated opponent, bad luck and a failure to respond when the chips were down. I don’t see how that’s a product of the American development system. It sounds more to me like a bad day at the rink.

Looking ahead, the U.S. still has a date with Canada Saturday. A game that likely has little meaning in the standings (though Team USA’s points from the prelim round do carry over to the relegation round), the tilt against Canada just became Team USA’s championship game. The one chance to take something positive out of the tournament.

Captain Jason Zucker has vowed to beat Canada Saturday. For a team with nothing to lose, all there is to gain is something to look back at the tournament and say, well it wasn’t ALL bad.

I’ll have a preview of that contest tomorrow morning.

If there’s one thing at all to be learned, nothing is decided until the final horn blows and nothing can be taken for granted. The U.S., on paper, was better than Finland and the Czech Republic. Easily favored in both contests. Didn’t matter. The team that played the hardest and made the most of its opportunities won both times. Funny how that works.

There isn’t a coach or a program in the world that can develop competitiveness. That is a skill or mentality that can only be found within in each player by each player. If there was an area where the U.S. fell short, it was finding that compete level to push back against a highly-competitive opponent. And because of that, Team USA can only say to itself, “What if?”

—–

U17 Challenge Update

The news doesn’t get much better for USA Hockey. The U.S. National Under-17 Team fell to Russia today, 3-2, in its second preliminary-round game at the 2012 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.

Russia got out to an early lead and the U.S. ended up playing from behind the entire game. Evan Allen scored his third goal of the tournament for the U.S. and Hudson Fasching added another in a third-period-comeback effort. It just wasn’t enough.

The U.S. has Saturday off, but will be back in action in a must-win game against Canada-West on New Year’s Day at 7 p.m. EST

Unlike the World Juniors, only two teams from each group advance to the medal round at the Challenge. The top two teams from each group cross over to play the second place teams from the opposite group in a semifinal. After that, it’s onto the medal games.

Team USA likely has to win its next two games to be part of that semifinal as the U.S. looks for its sixth medal in eight years.

FASTHockey is covering the entire World U17 Challenge. All you have to do is register for a free account at FASTHockey.com and you can watch every game of the tournament.

Coming up tomorrow on USofH, a USA-CAN preview and perhaps more analysis on what went wrong for the U.S. National Junior Team at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship.

As always, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments and I’ll still be answering questions on Twitter for the duration of the tournament.

About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
This entry was posted in American Prospects, Junior Hockey, NCAA, NHL, NHL Draft, NTDP, U.S. National Teams, USA Hockey, World Junior Championship. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to 2012 WJC: USA vs. Czech Republic Reviewed

  1. annonynus says:

    THE REASON….THE COACH DUMPED ALL THE SCORERS WHO MADE THE TEAM AND BROUGHT IN HIS BOYS TO PLAY A MAN’S GAME…..CHECK THE RECORD OF THOSE HE CUT AFTER PROVING THEM SELF AT LAKE PLACID AND EDMONTON…..CUT THEM OUT WITHOUT A WORD SAID TO THEM OF THE REASON WHY…..WHAT DOES THAT TELL YOU???????

  2. Sasha says:

    One thing I just can’t shake is Shane Prince’s comments to the Ottawa Citizen (if I recall correctly) after getting cut: about how the team was invited into a dinner hall, players who had made the team departed, the rest remained and were handed tickets without explanation. I am not arguing for Prince’s inclusion on the roster–I don’t think that mattered. What I would argue is Team USA wasn’t playing like a team at all. It seemed like five players independently out there attempting to take on five Czechs, alone. There was no cohesion. Botched passes, bad gaps, seemingly awful communication, loads of power-play time with little to show for it. Most of all: no intensity, no energy. All the talent in the world, and a sense of unity and dependability hadn’t yet been instilled. These are intangible qualities that are tough to create, but there was something about the process of getting cut in that fashion that really rubbed me the wrong way, for both those that made the team and those that didn’t.

    The Czechs had their way physically with the US, even when some of the post-whistle funny business got out of hand. Mrazek was lights out, and, well, there’s not much you can do about that sometimes. They scored inspired goals at key junctures. They played united.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Quite simply, this was not as talented a team many thought it to be. Their defense was horrible and they lacked the skilled forwards to put the puck in the net….in short, we are deluding ourselves if we think this was a gold medal contending team that failed to live up to expectations. They just weren’t that good, end of story.

  4. Curtis says:

    Someone named “anonymous” has a broken keyboard. Your caps lock key is stuck on, bud. I don’t even bother to read posts typed with all caps.

  5. Anonymous says:

    My problem with how things went was the coaching. For two games things and personnel that the coaches kept running out there time and time again couldn’t get it done. If the players you are sending out there for large amounts of ice time aren’t getting it done then it is time to change things up. Sure he juggled the lines a litle but the same players that weren’t producing were still getting large chunks of ice time. I think there were other skilled players that you should have given more ice time to so that you could maybe get something going. Seems like the same old favorites were getting the ice time and doing nothing with it.

  6. Hockey Watcher says:

    My thought is that the coaching let us down. The coaches kept putting the same guys out there and giving them large amounts of ice time even though they weren’t producing. Sure they juggled the lines a little but the same favorites were out there a majority of the time and they were producing nothing. That is the time you need to let some of the other skilled players who maybe haven’t been getting as much ice time play and see what they can do. They all are skilled players or they shouldn’t be there. The same players were out on the ice the majority of the time and not competing, producing and were making mistakes. our defense can’t ho;d the puck in the zone and the power play is terrible.

  7. Martin Breen says:

    It was truly gut wrenching to watch USA lose like that. Chris, yes, the team played slightly better than they did against Finland but so what — that’s a pretty low standard.

    I agree with Sasha, this team did not play like a team, They certainly lacked intensity as the only time I saw them play with the required amount of intensity was in the 3rd period for about 5 minutes when they were losing 3 -2. However, as soon as the Czech’s scored they took their foot off the gas. Come on guys, I play harder in my beer league games. I honestly cannot remember a USA player winning a puck battle when it counted.

    For me, this one is on USA Hockey for its coaching and selection. But honestly, I don’t see things changing — they may grow worse.

    • Chris Peters says:

      How does one fault USA Hockey for going with the last coach that won a gold medal? Dean Blais proved he could win at the World Junior level and there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t be able to do it again.

      • Martin Breen says:

        Chris, I blame the players first but Dean Blais picked the team and he is part fo the USA Hockey machine that i think is headed in the wrong direction. I know USA Hockey has had a great run in the last 5 years but they have planted a seed that will not grow. You must have players that are willing to sacrifice themselves for the team to win. And, I have wtinessed it firsthand that we are getting the opposite.

        Since you know everyone at USA Hockey, why don’t you ask whether they have noticed that the kids at Select Camp that move on are usually the most selfish players?

  8. Martin Breen says:

    I grew up outside St. Louis in the 70’s when American hockey was an afterthought. When the Canadians treated us American players like we were jokes. That all changed when a rag tag group of misfit players on the 1980 Olympic Team stunned the world by winning gold.

    In the next two decades, American hockey grew by leaps and bounds and the creation of the National Development Program in 1994, vaulted American hockey into the upper echelons of the game. For years, this program and this development model gave us an advantage over other countries as our kids became super skilled and focused at much younger ages. The tremendous success of U20, U18 and U17 team is a testament to that.

    But since 2008, I would suggest that the other countries have caught up. They also train their kids at very young ages and have them prepared for these world events.

    But now, I sense a change. I sense that we are headed in the wrong direction and I wonder if anyone else sees it.

    I have two sons and a daughter that play at very high levels and I can tell you that just in the last 5 years, I have seen the American game change radically. Now, its rich kids, playing for NHL careers and for themselves, not their teams.

    On my very first visit to the National Select Camp in Rochester, I was shocked to see the best players in our country walking around like they owned the place and worse, not passing the puck or being good teammates. Instead, the players were selfish and sought to pad their statistics so they could get noticed and moved on by USA Hockey.

    After the camp, my son said no one passes and no one plays like a team as everyone is out for himself. I told him not to worry that the coaches would see it and these players would not move on. Boy was I wrong. Not only did these players move on but USA Hockey (and the Scouts) sang their praises about how great they were. Many now play for the NTDP.

    I think USA Hockey has forgotten that being a good teammate is more important than being able to dangle or endless toe-drags.

    • dan/canada says:

      martin breen and the words of his boy are absolutley correct.usa hockey is so pro on making there own hockey people look good and pumping millions into the ann arbor program that the poor kids are being forgottenand that real hockey players are good team mates first.
      the rich and poor kids in canada play hockey and the poor kids have chances.players like wayne simmonds,claude giroux,marchand etc all havecome frm less than stellar backgrounds to the nhl
      if canadian hockey targeted kids at 15/16 like usahockey does;you miss out on the late bloomers like this years mark stone.the kid was a poor skater at 16 and barely made junior hockey…at 18 went 6th rd to ottawa…at 19 hes prob gonig to score 60 goals in the whl and will certainly be an nhl star…american hockey doesnt need ann arbor anymore….shane prince was passed by because he plays chl and wasnt an ann arbor prodigy…team usa couldvemedaled with players like prince and noesen who never even got a sniff.

  9. There are obviously disappointments when a National team underachieves. As for what went wrong … many little things added up to one big failure on the international stage. Personally, I have a hard time blaming the coach who stole Gold from Canada on the ice in Saskatoon in 2010. If what is being said about the cut process is true (which I have no idea about), it may have been handled poorly, but I don’t see how that reduces the success of those who were kept, as they were not the ones slighted.

    My initial thought is we had too many skilled players, and not enough grit and grind players. Where was Tyler Biggs, for example, not even invited to the Evaluation camp (was he hurt)? On the other side, it was very disappointing to not have Seth Jones, Justin Faulk and Rocco Grimaldi available. I believe they would have made a difference. But, we are a big enough country and program, they should be able to overcome those difficulties, but, they did not. Canada has lost valuable pieces to the NHL or injury every year, yet continues to excel with the players they have with the Canadian sweater on.

    I look at Canada in 2005 (because I saw the whole Tournament), They left both Eric Fehr and Ryan Stone of the Brandon Wheatkings off the roster even though they were the two top point scores at the time in the WHL. They had their scorers, and they wanted some grit, and they got it. Heck, they didn’t even invite Travis Zajac to the camp (Probably because he did the unthinkable and was playing US College hockey. That doesn’t happen as much anymore). All that team did was go out and absolutely dominate the Tournament (with Jeff Glass in goal, no less). They used their grit to totally demoralize the Russians in the Gold Medal game. That was a Russian team with both Ovechkin and Malkin up front, too!

    Leadership: Team USA, for whatever reason, did not have good leadership during this Tournament. And by that I mean the players wearing letters and returning, not the coaching staff. Jason Zucker, a very talented hockey player, was a non-factor for the second year in a row, this time while wearing the “C”. And now, after failing to advance he guarantees a win over Canada. Really? Too little, too late. And I don’t think it will happen, either. Charlie Coyle wearing an “A” (I think)? This is a player bolting one program for another, in mid-season no less. That’s not something a leader does, regardless of circumstances (see Kyle Okposo, 2008). And, let’s be honest, I don’t know the circumstances. Jack Campbell, Nick Bjugstad, Derek Forbert, all returning players, all under achieved. It was an epidemic that was magnified by the enormity of the event. But isn’t stepping up on a big stage what world class athletes are supposed to do, supposed to thrive on (see Jonathan Toews as a 17 and 18 year old)?

    At the end of the day, it needs to be a learning lesson for USA Hockey. Be brutally honest in evaluating what went right (not much) and what went wrong (plenty), and make the necessary adjustments. Not the end of the world, just a very disappointing showing by Team USA. Learn from it and move on.

    • It was remiss of me not to name a few whom I thought have played well so far. Tinordi and Trouba on defense (Merrill, too, excepting the Czech game). Arnold, Czarnik, Etem and Saad up front. These young men have acquitted themselves nicely during the Tournament so far.

      • Hcky-in-da-cube says:

        Wow 7 players have played well eh Ron? Maybe they should go play in a 3 on 3 hockey tournament next weekend together and Coach Dean can really do his thing. I think there is one in Denver in February and it is USA Hockey sanctioned #12CO35. Have fun!

    • Martin Breen says:

      Ron, I agree with your post although I am not sure it is grit or th grinder USA Hockey needs but rather a player that puts the team first. The way I say it, we need mentally tough players before we need physically tough players. Skilled players tend to rely on their skills too much and don’t know how to sacrifice themselves to make their teammates better. Instead, they are usually coddled by their coaches and treated like the big man on campus. (i.e., like Zucker). He is certainly a great player and will make the NHL one day but I am not sure he was a good Captain selection.

  10. Disappointed Fan says:

    The coaching left me wanting. You coached a gold medal team 2 years ago and you should know what it takes. You leave out guys who are not producing. You use the same deficient Power Play and Penalty Kill. Against very big teams you leave some of the bigger, better players on your bench. Yet you act surprised you didn’t win! You can’t win by doing all the wrong things over and over again. Yes these boys are talented yet they weren’t showing it. If my first liners aren’t produng and my 4th liners have more shots on goal…move up my 4th liners. You have enough depth to do so! I feel that as a Gold Medal winning coach you know what to do and you failed! If your point can’t hold in the puck – bench him. If your first liners cough up the puck and cause a goal – bench him. If your second liners can’t matchup – change it!! if you don’t then it is coaching! That is how I see it!

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