Eight seconds. That was all that separated the U.S. from the end of regulation and a chance in the overtime period against defending champion Finland. Alas, Jesse Joensuu was left open on the doorstep of the American net and he slammed the puck past Jimmy Howard for what stood to be the game-winning goal, eliminating the U.S. from the 2012 IIHF Men’s World Championship. A heartbreaking 3-2 loss for Team USA.
It was a bitter end to what was a pretty successful tournament for Team USA. Having won six of its first seven games, the U.S. was off to its best start at the Worlds since 1939. The Americans were riding high coming out of a preliminary round that included wins over Canada and Finland, but they don’t hand out medals for the preliminary round.
Despite that disappointing exit in the quarterfinal, USA Hockey can still be happy about the team they put on the ice. For the first time in years it seemed like the vast majority of players not only wanted to be there, but wanted to win. Badly.
In Bobby Ryan’s post-game interview, the frustration and disappointment seeped through as he chastised the officiating. It sounds silly to praise a player for squawking about the refs after a game, but it’s a sign that the game mattered to the 2010 Olympian. He cared.
More after the jump.
In a tournament that comes at the end of a gruelling NHL season, it’s a tough thing to say yes to. No matter how much we romanticize one representing his country and the sense of duty pros should feel, they’re tired. They’re human. They also take a risk by playing in this competitive postseason tournament (Jeff Halpern lost a year of his career after a knee injury suffered in the tournament in 2008).
This time, USA Hockey was able to attract three former Olympians, a vastly skilled top-four defense and some of the most promising young Americans in the game. This wasn’t just a group of guys getting some extra work in before the off-season. And that’s refreshing. It hasn’t always been that way.
So with that in mind, it’s hard to be too critical of this bunch despite yet another early exit. It’s been a long time since an American team looked like a legitimate contender for not just a medal, but a gold medal.
However, since it says USA-Finland recap in the headline, I suppose I should share a few notes on the 3-2 loss.
One thing Team USA struggled with in this rematch with Finland was matching the defending champs’ intensity. There were flashes of it from Team USA, but an inability to establish the pace as it had in the 5-0 prelim win, left the U.S. falling short in a few areas.
Team USA seemed to fade a bit in the third period, opening the door for Finland to erase a 2-1 deficit with 6:58 remaining in regulation. It was a bit of a weird goal out of Mikko Koivu who beat a stickless Jack Johnson to the net and deflected the puck in with his skate. What’s weird is just prior to the play, Patrick Dwyer made the smart decision to give Johnson his stick. When the U.S. gained possession, Dwyer retrieved his stick from Johnson, but with the Americans unable to clear, Finland took advantage and Koivu got the bounce. It was one of those weird situations you don’t expect to see, and somehow it ended up costing the U.S.
The game-winner is somewhat heartbreaking, as it was quite preventable. After Petri Kontiola got behind the U.S. defense and picked up his own dump in behind the U.S. net, Jeff Petry and Chris Butler got a little lost while tracking the Finnish forward. When Petry went to pressure Kontiola, he left Joenssu wide open in front. It was a tough play in a pressure-packed situation, but poor positioning and poor decisions allowed Joenssu an open look at Howard.
Team USA’s forwards struggled to generate chances, but a lot of that was due to Finland’s offensive pressure. The forechecking and neutral-zone play was rather excellent out of Finland and the U.S. found itself on its heels much more than putting the pressure on their opponents. After the U.S. went up 2-1 on Bobby Ryan’s early third-period goal, Finland flipped a switch.
Ryan’s complaints about the officiating weren’t completely off base, but one would be hard pressed to blame the refs for the end result. It was a frustrating loss and a disappointing end, but Finland played well enough to earn that victory.
Finland will meet Russia, while Slovakia will take on the Czech Republic in the semifinals.
The U.S. finished the tournament with a 4-2-0-2 record and scored 34 goals, while giving up just 20.
Max Pacioretty finished the tournament with 12 points. The quarterfinal was the first game in which he did not register a point. Bad timing, but Pacioretty did have the most productive Men’s World Championship by an American since at least 1975.
Justin Faulk, Paul Stastny and Jimmy Howard were named Team USA’s best three players of the tournament. Faulk led Team USA’s D corps and finished third overall on the team with eight points including four goals and four assists, while collecting a team-high plus-9 rating. Stastny finished second on the squad with nine points (3g-6a) and was excellent at both ends of the ice for Team USA, while also winning 64.1 percent of his faceoffs. Howard probably had his two best games against Finland and finished the tournament with a 2.42 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. It was interesting that Pacioretty did not receive one of these slots, based solely on his production, but it’s usually decided by the team staff, so they’d know who helped them most, I suppose.
Here’s a look at Team USA’s final statistics.
A few people have asked me why they should care about this tournament. It’s a completely understandable question. This event is usually met with apathy and ignorance. With the Stanley Cup Playoffs going on at the same time, it’s to be expected, but there is a reason this tournament matters and it has very little to do with fan interest.
The reason this event should be and is important to USA Hockey is that it is a measuring stick. If there is one things the 2010 Olympics proved, it’s that Team USA’s top players can match up well with anyone in the world. USA Hockey’s high end players are elite.
Where there is an issue is in the depth among American players. Once you get past the first 30 players, there’s a bit of a drop off in terms of talent. This time around Team USA was able to get about four or five of the guys that would be considered in that Top 30, but many years for this tournament it is lucky to even get that.
One thing this year’s Worlds showed is that the youngsters are on their way to start filling out the Top 30-50 of American hockey. Cam Fowler, Justin Faulk and Kyle Palmieri were all big parts of this U.S. team and all were born in 1991 or later. Max Pacioretty was a revelation this NHL season and in this tournament and certainly has a spot in that Top 30.
As the U.S. continues to see these younger guys come up through the ranks, and there are many that have been early draft picks and guys just beginning to break into the NHL, the depth is going to fill out.
The World Championship shows USA Hockey where that depth is going and this year is a good indication that the American talent pool is getting deeper. While at the mercy of the NHL Playoffs and who’s available and who will say yes, USA Hockey was still able to put together a team that had every reason to not hope for, but expect a medal. That’s a good sign for the future of American hockey.
I knew this tournament wouldn’t exactly be a traffic blazer for the blog, but for the reasons stated above, I think it’s an important tournament to cover. I was surprised to see just how much interest there was this year. A lot of that has to do with NBC Sports Network that has continued to lead the way in making sure hockey of all kinds is getting exposure to an American audience. From airing every Stanley Cup Playoffs game to putting college hockey on the air to showing the World Championships, the commitment from that network is a really positive step for the game.
Thanks to all of you who stopped by the blog during the tournament. I had a lot of fun covering this tournament and hope to do it again next year.
Things will begin to slow down around here as I work on some other projects over the summer, but my hope is to have a bunch of new features rolling out during the off-season as USA Hockey celebrates its 75th anniversary. Should be a fun summer.
Until then… Take it away, Lee Greenwood…