2011WMC: Evaluating Team USA After Quarterfinal Exit

The U.S. Men’s National Team dropped a 4-0 decision to the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, thus ending its run at the 2011 IIHF World Men’s Championship. Despite the final score, the U.S. played hard and battled to the end. Team USA just could not find a way to solve Ondrej Pavelec… or stop Jaromir Jagr.

Perhaps it was a fitting conclusion for Team USA, getting shut out. Goals were hard to come by for this U.S. squad all tournament long and its inability to bury against the most talented teams proved fatal today. Make no mistake, the Czech Republic is probably the best team in this tournament and should be a favorite to win gold. At the end of the day, the more talented team won out, though you’d have a hard time convincing me the hardest-working team won.

With the loss, Team USA finished the tournament in eighth place, five spots better than the 2010 squad that had to fight off relegation. So in a way, its an improvement, though this U.S. team probably expected better of itself.

Coming up after the jump, a look back on the tournament that was for Team USA including a spotlight on some individual players.

As mentioned earlier, Team USA just struggled offensively. The lack of depth at the forward position hurt this club in a big way. Here’s a quick look at some of Team USA’s forwards:

Derek Stepan finished as Team USA’s leading point getter with seven (2-5), and was a bright spot all tournament for the Americans. His play proved why he’ll always be on USA Hockey’s radar for World Championships and Olympics down the road. Should his development continue at it has, he’s going to be an easy pick every time he’s available.

Craig Smith was the surprise of the tournament for me and probably everyone else. His six points were pretty impressive considering he was one of two collegians on Team USA’s roster. It’s more impressive yet, when you learn that Smith never played on a U.S. team before, at least not in an IIHF World Championship event (including the WJC). The young man played like a pro and was a big part of Team USA’s top line with former Wisconsin teammate Stepan and Blake Wheeler.

Wheeler had a very up-and-down tournament. That kind of goes along with Wheeler’s career track. There’s something about him that makes you wonder what he can be as a player, then he’ll do something that just horrifies you. That said, he brought an offensive presence in many of the games. His lack of finish would be more frustrating if the entire team didn’t suffer the same malady. However, on a team with little offensive depth, he brought something. So that’s positive, right?

James van Riemsdyk was only available for two games, but he contributed in those two contests. Despite stepping right off a plane and into the locker room for Team USA’s final qualifying round game against Switzerland, he brought that offensive ability he had shown throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Had he been there the whole time, it might have been a different story for Team USA in the tournament. If JVR can sustain the type of play he showed in the playoffs, there’s no doubt he’ll be an Olympian at some point.

Ryan Shannon can fly. U.S. teams are often built on speed and he has it. His line against Canada, Switzerland and against the Czechs played its best hockey. He was with a mix of Andy Miele, Yan Stastny, Nick Palmieri and van Riemsdyk over the course of the tournament, so it was hard to get that consistency. I liked the way Shannon played particularly in the last two games.

Jack Skille scored one goal. That’s what many of Skille’s critics are going to point to. Understandably so. The kid looks like he should score a ton of goals with the way he skates and moves, but he doesn’t. However, Skille’s lack of finish should not be allowed to overshadow his in-game work ethic. He brings an energy to every shift. I wonder if it’s time for the young forward to reinvent himself a little bit. It’s unlikely he’s ever going to be a top-6 scorer. So what’s the harm in becoming a defensively responsible, high-energy third liner? Sure, it’s not why you pick guys at seventh overall in the draft, but the kid can provide something. I liked the way he played for Team USA.

Nick Palmieri was inconsistent, but he showed flashes of skill and speed. I thought he was solid in Team USA’s first couple of games, but virtually disappeared and even ended up as a scratch against Switzerland. He’s a young guy, so he’s got time to expand on his skill set and round out his game. I think the flashes we saw could be a glimpse of what’s to come throughout his career.

Chris Kreider gets a pass for youth in this tournament. He started with a bang, but kind of faded away as the tournament went on. There’s no doubt this kid has pro-ready talent and could probably jump in with the Rangers. However… I think Kreider actually has a very good outlook on where he needs to be to contribute and that’s why another year at BC is only going to help. He’s going to be one to watch, but based on what I saw in this tournament, there is no need to rush him into the NHL. One more year of seasoning in college should do the trick.

The defense was always going to be the strength of this team, and for much of the tournament it was. Due to the lack of depth at forward, Team USA’s defenders had to jump into more plays and try and generate chances. It worked to varying degrees of success, but there are a lot of positives to take out of this one.

Jack Johnson is a horse. He finished the tournament minus-4, but when you play 23 minutes a game for a team that can’t score, that’s bound to happen. He was physical, fast and was mainly really smart. His offensive skill is immense, but I don’t think he sacrificed his defense on many occasions. Additionally, he never says no to USA Hockey. Johnson might not be the best American player overall, but he’s certainly up there.

Cam Fowler had a very strong tournament. I thought he played sound defense, with a good defensive stick and solid D-zone awareness. However, I continue to be impressed by his offensive abilities. Some of the plays he made in the offensive zone were eye opening. This kid’s future is bright and USA Hockey will likely be tapping him on the shoulder any chance they get.

Kevin Shattenkirk played the second-most minutes among Team USA’s D corps (19:05, Fowler was third at 18:52). I think some of the chances Shattenkirk took were risky, but he was doing anything he could to help generate chances and I liked that out of him. One thing I think Shattenkirk does better than a lot of defenseman is the way he plays when he gets the puck down low in the offensive zone. He’s patient, even though he’s deeper than he probably should be. There were several instances in the tournament where Shattenkirk’s risks generated a rare spurt of sustained pressure in the offensive zone that leads to quality scoring chances. I really liked the way he played, though I have a feeling he and Fowler will be battling for the same roster spot come 2014. I’d hate to be the one to make the final call there.

Keeping with young defensemen, Ryan McDonagh was a guy who’s youth showed a bit. I am a big believe in McDonagh in the long term, however I was a bit disappointed with his decision-making, particularly in the defensive zone. Many of the mistakes McDonagh made are the kind that will get worked out as he gains experience. There’s no doubt he’s got the talent and the potential to be a big-time contributor to the Rangers long term.

Mike Komisarek and Mark Stuart were kind of the lock-down stalwarts and overall did a good job. Both took the odd unnecessary penalty,but they play a hard-nosed style. For the most part, they did what Team USA needed them to do, and that’s all you can ask.

The goaltending was a fear for the U.S. and the fear was pretty much realized, save for Ty Conklin’s effort against Canada. I also thought Conklin was as good as he needed to be against the Czechs in the quarterfinal, he just didn’t get any offensive help. While the goaltending wasn’t great, you couldn’t possibly saddle either Al Montoya or Conklin with the blame for Team USA’s woes.

Overall, we can look back at the 2011 IIHF World Men’s Championship as a learning experience for some of USA Hockey’s younger players. Getting experience for guys like Fowler, van Riemsdyk, McDonagh, Shattenkirk, Smith, Kreider, Miele and Palmieri helps a lot. Perhaps those guys will be called upon many times in the future.

For the most part, this was a hard-working team that maybe was a few pieces shy of being a real medal contender. A five-spot improvement from the previous tournament is a step in the right direction, however it wouldn’t be unfair to have expected better.

Hopefully more players sign on for this event in the coming years. It’s a fantastic way to play a different role or be relied on in a different way from one’s NHL club. Not to mention, anytime you can represent your country should be an honor. Let’s hope more players feel that way in the future.

As USA Hockey’s talent pool deepens in the NHL, the better these World Championship teams will be. When you think about all of the names that didn’t appear on the roster, it’s easy to see that the future for Team USA is incredibly bright. So instead of focusing on the negative of who didn’t come, we can be proud of the ones that did and the effort they put out.

With that, the 2011 international hockey season is over. It was a fantastic year for USA Hockey. The United States earned gold at the 2011 IIHF World Women’s Championship, World Women’s U18 Championship and World Men’s Under-18 Championship, while taking bronze at the 2011 World Junior Championship.

Now we can expect a summer of USA Hockey player development camps, the National Junior Evaluation Camp, Warren Strelow goaltending camp, the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka and more.

Coming up tomorrow, the American Prospect Update returns with a look at some of the intangible qualities some scouts might consider when evaluating specific draft prospects.


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.
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2 Responses to 2011WMC: Evaluating Team USA After Quarterfinal Exit

  1. Woody says:

    Unfortunately pretty much what I expected. This team had basically two legit talented forward, two once Van Riemsdyk joined the team. Paul Gaustad isn’t there to score, but he;s very good at what he does. Stepan looked great, but after that it was a whole lot of mediocre. The talent of the US forwards might have been lower than many of the teams who didn’t make the knockouts. In some ways, the team might have overachieved. Combine that with just okay goaltending, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t enough to be a difference maker, and this team never really had a chance to do more than it did.

    Now if they could find a way to get guys like Phil Kessel, Bobby Ryan, Patrick Kane, David Backes to say yes to the team, then we might actually have something. Unfortunately the US, both fans and players, probably takes this tournament the least seriously of all countries.

  2. Mike Bradley says:

    Great evaluation of the team, I especially liked your points on Jack Skille. As a Hawks fan, his lack of scoring touch killed me at times, but he does give it his all on pretty much every shift. He kind of reminds me of what Rob Niedermayer went through. Rob was drafted 5th overall by the Panthers to provide some scoring, but never fully reached that potential. So he reinvented himself to be solid defensive forward and he’s made a great career out of that, which also includes a Stanley Cup. I truly believe this is the route Skille should take and use that high-energy in a role that will benefit him and his team the most.

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