Finishing in third place is disappointing for USA Hockey, the team and the fans. It’s not what many expected. Still, this afternoon, a group of 22 players pulled together and ended the tournament on the highest note possible, given the circumstances.
Instead of hanging their heads and going through the motions after a crushing loss in the semis, Team USA beat a very talented Swedish team, 4-2, to capture bronze. I tweeted earlier today that leaving this tournament without a medal would have made the loss to Canada that much more unbearable. However, Canada’s loss to Russia in a phenomenal collapse might have brought at least a little solace, but not much. USA Hockey players tend to have similar feelings towards Russia as they do for Canada.
By winning its bronze medal, the U.S. accomplished something that’s never been done before in winning back-to-back medals at the World Junior Championship. Additionally, The bronze was also the first medal of any kind won by Team USA on home soil at this event. So there was some history made. For the eight returnees, they are the first players to have two sets of hardware. That’s a nice thing for these players to hang their hats on.
In addition to winning the bronze, Jack Campbell was given the directorate award as the tournament’s best goaltender and made the all-tournament team. He’s been the directorate award winner in each of the last two tournaments he’s played (2010 U18, 2011 WJC). He was deserving, to put it mildly. Clearly the best U.S. player throughout the entire tournament. A shame the offense couldn’t provide more.
For the Americans, there is some solace in bronze. By the reaction from most of the players, they really wanted it today. They knew just how bad it would be with no medal. They get to leave this tournament on a bit of a high. Not the highest, but not the lowest.
Let me say this, Campbell was brilliant, but Chris Kreider was borderline heroic out there. He had some of the most blunt and honest answers to a question delivered by Billy Jaffe after the Canada game and he came back two days later with fire. He set an example not only with his two goals, but with the pride and passion he played with. He was outstanding in a game that was probably really hard to get up for. He got up for it and he delivered. His second goal was a thing of beauty. A flying water bottle to send the U.S. out on the right note? Nice touch, Chris.
There were a lot of bright spots out there. I thought Justin Faulk and Jon Merrill had great bounce back games. Nick Bjugstad regained his form after an abysmal game against Canada. Drew Shore’s goal was a result of getting to the net, which Team USA just couldn’t do at all against the Canadians (as was Bjugstad’s). There was improvement. That was pleasant to see.
At the end of each tournament, each team’s staff picks who they thought the team’s three best players were. For Team USA, it was Jack Campbell, Jon Merrill and Charlie Coyle. Can’t argue with those choices.
That’s about all the gushing I’m going to do about the bronze-medal game. The fact of the matter is, this is a team that should have been better. They know it, we know it. They can and should be proud of being medalists, but I have a feeling a lot of these guys are thinking, “What if?”
Now the U.S. will have to go into Canada next year and WILL have to play the Canadians in the preliminary round (Canada’s loss to Russia puts them in Group B). New Year’s Eve, I presume, the U.S. will get a crack at revenge, at least. Hopefully they’ve learned from the tournament this year and will be able to come into next year’s event ready to fight for gold.
Tomorrow, I’ll have my final thoughts on the tournament that was the 2011 World Junior Championship, complete with evaluations of each of the 22 players (separate posts for forwards and defensemen). I will also take a look ahead to 2012 and clue you in on some of the players I think will be in the mix for next year’s squad. Later this week, I’ll also have some thoughts on Buffalo as host (FYI, the Buffalo WJC was the second best attended in the history of the event) and also tell you more about what to expect from United States of Hockey going forward.
For the last time, here are your post-game links:
USA Today’s Kevin Allen continued his great coverage of the World Juniors with a recap of the bronze medal game, in which Ryan Bourque said the team fed off of Kreider today.
Shawn P. Roarke and Mike Morreale were a great team for NHL.com in Buffalo. Roarke’s post-game recap includes Kyle Palmieri talking about wanting to make a statement.
USAHockey.com’s piece reveals that the chance to make history was a big motivating factor for Team USA.
Bruce Peter of the very fine hockey blog, Puck Worlds, shares his thoughts on the tournament.
SBNation blog From The Rink wonders if the World Juniors might work in a warmer climate, or at the very least a vacation destination. Interesting stuff.
A quick side note: I’d like to thank all of the folks who have linked the blog on their own blogs or on message boards. I’m very appreciative for them helping this little blog get exposure throughout the tournament.
Finally, thanks to all of you for reading and commenting or tweeting throughout the tournament! It’s been an absolute pleasure to cover, and I hope many of you will stick around to see what else I’ve got up my sleeve.