2012 WJC: USA vs. Canada Reviewed; Time to Panic? Hardly

First off, Happy New Year, everybody! Thanks for making 2011 such a fun year on United States of Hockey. Hopefully it’ll be even better in 2012. Now let’s get to some analysis.

Photo: Dave Arnold

Maybe it’s a good thing 2011 is over for the U.S. National Junior Team, but it couldn’t have ended on a more sour note.

It was too little, too late for Team USA as it fell 3-2 to Canada, despite a third-period comeback bid. Turns out, that third period may have been Team USA’s best period of the tournament, but it came well after there was anything to play for.

In that third period, Team USA gave its fans a glimpse of what could have been. A furious forecheck, bodies in front of the net, creating chances in tight and a pair of goals showed what the team was capable of. It took 12 periods to get there.

The U.S. will now meet Latvia on Jan. 3 and Switzerland on Jan. 4 in the relegation round. Team USA can finish no higher than seventh place. To provide some context, the U.S. has finished lower than sixth place only four times since 1977 and not since 1999. There were far less talented teams that fared far better than this edition of the U.S. National Junior Team.

Coming up after the jump, a brief look at USA-Canada. Also, a look into why it is not yet time to panic for USA Hockey.

Jack Campbell (Photo: Dave Arnold)

The U.S. fell behind early and never really recovered from its slow start. Jack Campbell, who ditched his Captain America mask in favor of his 2010 WJC lid, had his best game of the tournament. He was peppered early and I wouldn’t put any of Canada’s goals on the goaltender.

Once again it was either a turnover, a crucial mistake on D or a bad penalty that helped contribute to the goals. The first period was Team USA’s tournament defined. Sloppy, disimpassioned and devoid of offensive production. As the game wore on, the team got better, as did the effort.

Neither team scored in the second period, leaving Team USA with 20 minutes to show something. It took a little while to get going, but around the half-way point of the period, Team USA turned it up a notch. They finally found that gear that had been missing against Finland and the Czech Republic.

Charlie Coyle scored on a beauty of a snapper, and that gave the U.S. life. Then Jason Zucker scored one from below the goal line and it looked as though the comeback was on.

In the end, the U.S. couldn’t find the equalizer despite several good opportunities.

When the final buzzer sounded, the U.S. was left with its third consecutive loss and plenty of questions, but so few answers.

Quickly… some bright spots from the Canada game:

Jacob Trouba, a deserving Player of the Game (Photo: Dave Arnold)

Jacob Trouba was named the U.S. Player of the Game, and from the first puck drop, the 17-year-old was overall outstanding. He was playing like a man out there. On one 15-second (or so) span in the first period, Trouba took a player off his feet on three separate occasions. There were many instances where Trouba put a Canadian player on his backside. His draft stock has to be on the rise after his performance. At times he showed his youth, but more times than not, he raised his game to a new level.

Campbell definitely had his best night of the tournament. He made 32 saves and didn’t give up any softies. He gave his team confidence and bailed them out at times as well.

I still don’t think there’s any point in hanging the previous losses on the goalies, even if they didn’t have their best games. They weren’t the only ones on the ice in those games. Plenty of blame to go around.

Jarred Tinordi took a costly penalty, but outside of that, provided solid defense. He was Team USA’s most reliable defenseman throughout the tournament and looked every bit as good as the first-round draft pick Montreal used on him in 2010.

Bill Arnold was quietly one of Team USA’s better forwards throughout the tournament. He is in a three-way tie for the U.S. point lead with five points (2-3). I never saw much of a letdown in his compete level.

Charlie Coyle leads Team USA with four goals (Photo: Dave Arnold)

Charlie Coyle, battling a flu bug, gave a gutsy performance against Canada. His goal was a beauty, and he certainly showed why he’s such a prized prospect. Knowing that he wasn’t at 100 percent for the Czech game explains a lot why Team USA’s offense was sputtering. It hasn’t been great all tourney, but it’s better when Coyle is at the top of his game. Ah, just another “What if?”

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There may have been a few more bright spots, but overall, the U.S. comes out of the preliminary round 1-0-0-3. Just looking at those numbers in succession makes you think about what happened. The other thing you might notice? It’s four games.

There has been a lot of overreaction to what this means for USA Hockey, the NTDP, the development model overall. In the end, it is a bad week. The players didn’t perform in a tournament where the margin for error is so small that after three games your tournament can be over.

If USA Hockey were to base their entire developmental ideology on four games, the results would be laughably disastrous. That’s not to say this four-game period doesn’t require strong examination. It absolutely does, but to say this is a failure of the selection process or the development system is taking it too far.

It’s easy to say player X (most often Shane Prince comes up) would have helped the team, but how do you know? You just don’t. And we’ll never find out. You need 22 guys to win, and one player here or there was not going to save this team.

You have to think back to the 2005 team that disappointed in Grand Forks, or the 2009 team in Ottawa. There are always questions after the tournament, but if USA Hockey blew up the system after either of those years, perhaps there would have been no gold in 2010. What they did was make small tweaks.

After 2009, instead of picking the team without a pre-tournament camp as had been the norm, Tim Taylor and Jim Johannson figured that a camp leading into the tournament would give more credibility to the scouting system and give a much better idea of what the players could do at the World Junior level (a level far different from college and/or Major Junior). That tweak resulted in back-to-back medals in 2010 and 2011. However, with the same setup, it results in a seventh-place-or-lower finish. You just never know how it will play out.

This year, the team lost two defenseman they were counting on in a matter of days when Justin Faulk wasn’t released and Seth Jones got injured. Rocco Grimaldi suffered a serious injury weeks before the tournament, leaving him unavailable. Nick Bjugstad wasn’t at 100 percent. Charlie Coyle got sick. Connor Brickley got hurt and missed a game. Derek Forbort went down early in a key game.

These things happen. They’re not excuses, but they are contributors to what ends up being the most disappointing finish for the U.S. in a long, long time. Maybe ever.

Then you take into account the failures on the ice. The poor decisions that led to goals, the bad bounces, the bad penalties, the lack of effort in certain situations. It all adds up to what we saw.

The overreaction to what to make of this loss needs to be tempered. It’s an embarrassing setback. It is not the end of the world.

The U.S. has medals in two of the last three years at the World Junior Championship. Prior to 1996, it had medaled twice in 20 years. Three straight gold medals at the Under-18 level and eight consecutive medals overall. Top-three finishes at the U17 Challenge in each of the last five years. Three first-place finishes in the last four years at the World Junior A Challenge. That’s a high success rate at the international level.

That doesn’t even mention the dozens of American prospects making NHL debuts in the last five years. The players are developing through all avenues and making it to the game’s top level at a rate far higher than ever before.

Is it time to panic? No. Not in the least.

USA Hockey will have to go back to the drawing board, determine what went wrong this year and what to do better next. It won’t result in sweeping changes, but there will be tweaks. This is the type of result that demands action of some kind, and there will be action, guaranteed. It just won’t involve dynamite.

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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 American Prospects, Junior Hockey, NCAA, NHL, NHL Draft, NTDP, U.S. National Teams, USA Hockey, World Junior Championship. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to 2012 WJC: USA vs. Canada Reviewed; Time to Panic? Hardly

  1. JBS says:

    When you don’t achieve your ultimate goal then there will always be speculation. The fact is we have a lot of very talented hockey players in the US & we should be well set for many years. Chemistry & a foundation for team work will forge the process. Hooah!!

    Side note: Zucker & Coyle are great young Americans & will play at the next level. Their ability, leadership & battle level are paramount.

  2. J O'B says:

    Well I guess on the bright side, is that USA Hockey has advanced to the point that this kind of finish is unacceptable. There are many of us who are paying attention, and will no longer just shrug off poor results (thanks in large part to more accessibility of getting to watch the games). I wish USA Hockey would be honest about this tourney in their monthly mag, and not sugar-coat it in some candy mannered article.
    Canada’s constant booing of our boys is a big surprises to many new to this tourney, and a source of extreme irratance to those of us that grew up idolizing Canadian heroes of the past. It is a sure sign that we are taken seriously, and they are nervous about the hockey development of their neighbors.

  3. When things like this happen, people are always looking at starting over, but that should not be the case here. USA Hockey has done an outstanding job and this is a bump in the road. Hey to me Ottawa was more of a disappointment then what happened this year. That team was loaded with first rounders and just quick basically. This team I did not get that feeling, they played hard every shift. We will brush our selves off and be a factor in Russia next year. Hey we now expect medals from the WJC, which is something that I never thought would happen.

  4. Byfugfor2014 says:

    Ok having lived in Canada the last five years they are not booing the Americans because they sense our boys as a threat(though they should) It is because bashing America is their second most popular sport. They feel because a few idiot Yanks think they live in igloos means that all Yankees think they live in igloos and since we are all George W Bush clones that gives them the right to boo players simply due to their nationality. I got harassed at a bar where i was watching the 2010 gold medal game because i had the gall to wear my us jersey in public. My canadian friends even admitted to me that if I was Russian and was wearing their jersey they wouldnt have minded, but the fact i was wearing USA gear was somehow down offensive. One buddy said that I had no right to be happy that the US won because the Americans dont know real hockey and its an insult to Canadians to think that their Yankee neighbours could actually like the greatest sport in the world as much as them. After Canada beat the US in overtime at the olympics the BPs i was at erupted into a chant. Now if it had simply been a rendeition of Oh Canada thats one thing but this bar of “polite” canadians(to thier credit my friends did not join in) rose as one and for a solid 5 minutes chanted F the States. And judging by the booing witnessed of the Yanks at this world juniors that shows no signs of changing

    • charlieyankee says:

      The only reason they didn’t join in was because you were with them, and they were probably very resentful of the fact that you being there prevented them from joining in the “fun.”

      I grew up near the border, and for a long time, I had a lot of respect for Canada and Canadians. Not any more.

    • Paulo says:

      unfortunately its difficult for some people (particular those who watch hockey games in bars in Canada – would a bar in Philadelphia or Boston have been any different than the one you were at?) to separate politics from behaving like human beings. I would suggest that you watch the next Canada-USA game with a family not in their 20 – 30’s and inebriated in a bar before you judge the reactions of a country of 33 million people. I for one appreciate the States and though do not consider you a hockey ‘threat’, consider you a worthy and challenging hockey adversary… and that will continue to grow as US hockey gets better. cheers.

    • Al says:

      Well that is one way of putting it. Another way to sum it up is that Hockey (particularly the U20’s) is a soother for the Canadian inferiority complex. Canadians (not all) try to cleverly layer in their favorite past-time of American bashing into hockey. What’s most sad is, it is directed at some young men, some not even old enough to vote. If it is such a problem maybe the US should stop sending a team. If that were to happen the tournament would have a good chance of flopping, then what?
      With the anti-American sentiment that lies in Hockey and Canada, one thing that concerns me is when young players drink the Kool-aid and want to go play hockey in the CHL. Just think of what that kid would go through even with a stong mental make-up. I have seen US kids (on US based CHL teams mind you) have to put up alot of extra curricular activity due to citizenship. It must be draining. Having said that I have heard from some players that things did work out for them.
      I hope that USAH uses this as a motivator to take those 100,000 kids under the age of 8 and produces players and teams that will make Canada eat its lunch.
      I do agree that things need some tweaking.

      • Paulo says:

        lets face it AL … Canadians if anything have a superiority complex … Canada is a richer, better educated, more tolerant, more peaceful, healthier nation…. The ‘inferiority complex’ thing that Americans love to throw around is just another example of you living in a self aggrandizing bubble which makes everyone else chuckle … and if you really think USA hockey not participating in the world juniors would have any effect at all you really don’t understand the sport.

      • Paulo says:

        … ultimately there are lots of people on both sides of the border which love the same game and love to compete with eachother … should make for a lot of intense meetings in the future,.

  5. charlieyankee says:

    While I agree with many of the points made in this article, and I appreciate the background information, this team lacked two major component: cohesion and snarl.

    When Seth Jones was injured, did his teammates join forces to return the favor to
    the Russians? No. The same with the Bjugstad hit.

    Other teams do this to remove assets. They also know that our guys won’t get up in their faces and hit back.

    Yes, I know they can take penalties, or even get kicked out of games or suspended. However, not dishing out some retribution
    puts a big “Kick Me” sign on the team’s back. If the other teams know that running somebody on the team is going to cost them, they might think twice.

  6. Martin Breen says:

    Chris, you say it’s not time to panic because we have had one poor performance and USA Hockey moves on many kids to the NHL. But is that the appropriate standard, moving a small number of players on to the NHL? I know hundreds of hundreds of talented kids who pour their heart and soul into hockey (putting off college for years) and then end up quitting. To me, this is a serious issue that is not addressed by USA Hockey.

    As one of the bloggers above said, USA Hockey (and you to a less extent) will paint a rosy picture and say everything is great in American hockey.

    As a parent of 3 kids who play and as a former college player myself, I will assert things are not great here. Money is ruining this game and USA Hockey has talked out of both sides of its mouth by saying they want the game to be affordable but making the race to for elite development a game only for the rich. We were at Nationals a few years ago and besides paying for the high travel costs, USA Hockey took a cut of the hotel costs every night.

    And to me, I have observed issues with our development model and selection process before this poor performance.

    Again, I ask you, have you observed that USA Hockey tends to move on very selfish players instead of team players? You cannot win with a group of selfish players not mattered how skilled and eventually it will catch up to you.

    I do not think it is panic to ask the question of whether we are promoting the right values.

    • J O'B says:

      I’ll say that money is an issue…..if a kid breaks a stick now, it is a $100-$200+ dollars even on top of all of the other various fees we are assessed. That is what I paid for skates when I was a kid. Not exactly what most people would spend on equipment for a sporting activity. I will admit that this is not just a USA issue, but in Calgary where I am most familiar, equipment cost even more. However, they all seem to drive BMW’s and Mercedes in the oil “centre” of Canada and they pay crazy prices for it without blinking.

  7. Paulo says:

    .. just be careful not to do the same thing you say ‘Canadians’ do, which is to lump a whole nation of people into a description which in actuality represents a minority. I am a staunch Canadian and hockey fan and don’t rejoice in the US’s failings. I want to see the US get better and become a consistent rival to Canadian hockey. .. makes for some of the best hockey ever played… equal to some of the best Canada – Russia games.

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