2014 Olympics Hockey: USA-Canada Semifinal Reviewed

Beyond a thrilling first 10 minutes of the first period and some infrequent flashes throughout the game, the U.S. was barely in it and lost to Canada 1-0 in the semifinals at the Olympics.

2014CrestAfter a really sound first four games to the tournament, coming up short by one goal again has to sting. But what should sting more is that the U.S. was not really much of a threat for a good portion of that game. Thanks to a sound Canadian system predicated on aggressive defense, a strong forecheck and strong positional play.

When it gets to this stage of the Olympics, you only get one shot and the U.S. did not have its best game today. Against a team that sound defensively, Team USA needed its absolute best. Now they are left to ponder a lost opportunity after a rather forgettable performance.

I don’t think it was a lack of effort or a complete let down, but it doesn’t change the fact the U.S. wasn’t good enough and probably wasn’t close.

There were some positives. Team USA was doing some little things well, like blocking shots, not allowing too many second-chance efforts from Canada in the defensive zone. Jonathan Quick was a monster between the pipes with his 36-save effort and no way you can fault him for Jamie Benn’s goal.

That goal came off of a mistake. The U.S. got scrambly in its own end and Jay Bouwmeester was alone at the point. He had the patience and the vision to find Benn breaking to the net. That was all the opening Canada needed. Once that goal went in, the U.S. response just wasn’t there enough.

The third period will prove particularly disappointing. Trailing 1-0 with their lives on the line, the U.S. managed just nine shots on goal, their lowest total of any of the three periods.

There were a few close calls in the game like Zach parise’s near tap-in on a power play and Paul Stastny’s net-front push that went through Carey Price and just missed the far post.

But the U.S. needed to create more close calls and they weren’t able to make Canada sweat enough. Now the U.S. has to get up for a bronze-medal game that is going to be tough to play in.

It’s not the medal they came for, but it’s all they have left. The U.S. hasn’t medaled outside of North America since 1972 and hasn’t won back-to-back medals since 1956-60. There’s still a chapter in history to write, even if it is a footnote among the giants of 1980 and 1960.

Here are five quick thoughts on the game.

1. Ryan Suter was not happy with Team USA’s effort in the game. Here’s what he had to say.

“We didn’t show up to play. It’s kind of frustrating,” Suter said, per the Olympic News Service. “They’re a good team. We sat back, we were passive. You can’t play scared.”

I didn’t find the U.S. effort terribly disappointing, but their ability to execute was definitely hindered by not being able to deal with Canada’s aggressiveness. That’s simply unacceptable because you know exactly what Canada is bringing coming into the game.

The time and space the U.S. had against other opponents was never going to be there, but you still have to find ways to make it work. Puck management and decision-making in the neutral zone was abysmal for a lot of the game. When that happens, Team USA’s style of play goes bust.

2. You can’t take anything away from Canada, though. They played that game beautifully. The U.S. got to a point where Canada had to make a mistake to have a chance. Carey Price was on his game as well. He didn’t look like he was made to work very hard out there. When that happens, you’re in big trouble. I wrote a lot more about the Canadian defense at CBSSports.com, so you can check more out about that here.

3. Knowing that the Canadian defense was going to be so aggressive, where did the scoring go? The U.S. never had a chance to generate speed through the neutral zone and never established anything in transition. Their power plays were inconsistent and they didn’t ever establish a forecheck. There are a lot of reasons.

I’ve seen a lot of folks questioning the roster. I don’t think there’s a single player they left off that would have done any better than the group they had in that game. This is a team that scored 20 goals in the first four games.

I don’t think it’s worth second-guessing the decisions because they lost a 1-0 hockey game to that Canadian team. I just don’t see anyone else in the pool that would have made a difference.

I’m sure Kyle Okposo, Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad will get brought up in the shoulda, coulda, woulda scenarios, but I really don’t see a different result. This game was lost because the U.S. couldn’t answer Canada’s game plan. They had enough scoring on this team and they didn’t score at the worst possible time.

4. Jonathan Quick, man. This guy has been sensational in big games and I thought he was just tremendous today. He made 36 saves against one of the best forward groups he may ever face and just never once looked rattled by it. He definitely proved Dan Bylsma right in making him the starter though he wasn’t necessarily the obvious choice.

Quick did his job, he just needed some support. He might be used to that kind of offensive power outage though with how LA has been this season.

5. This game is bitterly disappointing for a lot of reasons. For those that Suter mentioned and for the fact that we don’t know if the NHL is coming back to the Olympics after this. I think they will, but I would not be shocked if they don’t go in at least 2018. 

If that is the case, we might not see an Olympics as entertaining as the last two from an American standpoint and that is not a great feeling.

If the NHL doesn’t return, there’s no chance for yet another rematch and another great contest between these two North American rivals with stakes that high. The World Cup of Hockey was great and if that event bring it back, it will be fun. It won’t be the Olympics and it won’t have near the same impact, exposure or meaning.

To me, this one also stings because this group of players was good enough to win gold. I don’t think there’s any doubt. They did not play well in the biggest game and that’s it. All of that build up and poof. Done.

This was supposed to be the generation of  USA Hockey that turned the tide. They’ve had success internationally and has experienced being the best at one time or another in their young careers, but they didn’t take that last step. It’s a lost opportunity filled with regret.

What this loss means is written all over Patrick Kane’s face.

We can ask about where the scoring went and question every decision, but as it always does at the Olympics, it comes down to one game. One chance to create a lasting image, to put a new stamp on American hockey history and when that opportunity is lost as it was today, and as it was for the women on Thursday, it’s a tough pill for any American hockey fan to swallow (though a lot tougher for those involved in the games).

Hockey has grown in this country and will continue to grow and we will continue to use various measuring sticks to compare the United States to everyone else in the sport. The Olympics is a big one, maybe an overblown one in terms of big-picture meaning, but certainly the one that has the most exposure and symbolism and that means Sochi ends with a pretty empty feeling for American hockey fans, even if the U.S. does win bronze (emptier if they don’t).

There were positive moments and great memories from Sochi, but they’re not golden.

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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 2014 Olympics, NHL, U.S. National Teams, USA Hockey. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to 2014 Olympics Hockey: USA-Canada Semifinal Reviewed

  1. Jason says:

    After Vancouver we thought that USA Hockey had made a step forward and could go toe to toe with Canada at the Olympics. After today it feels like we took a step back.

  2. *sherrie* says:

    The biggest takeaway I had from today is that Mike Babcock is by far the best coach in the world today. He left Bylsma in the dust. Totally agree with your assessment–despite the score, the US wasn’t really in the game.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The US had 5 or 6 guys who would have made the Canadian team, You had some real high end guys but your depth could not match Canada. The US did fine considering who they had to choose from.

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