The Problem With U.S. Hockey

The USA mens hockey program is in a shambles. Not because they lost a game last night to Canada. No, not because they lost, but because of how they lost.  Because losing the way they did at the World Cup of Hockey is becoming the norm.

Facing elimination from the World Cup of Hockey as a fan I was expecting the Americans to surge out of the gate and press the play from the opening faceoff forcing the Canadians to weather the storm before countering the onslaught. Instead I saw a lethargic disinterested team for the most part. Unwilling or unable to mount any consistent attack. While it’s true the Canadians defended well and Carey Price was once again stellar in goal these are the games to reveal a teams character and will.

Dean Lombardi and John Torterella built the American team to beat Canada and that is where their thinking is flawed. The World Cup, Canada Cup or Olympics are international tournaments and focusing in so heavily on one team leaves you exposed to other styles of play. Canada has the reputation of playing hard hitting physical hockey, so that’s what the Americans strove for. Unfortunately for them the Canadian game has shifted to a more skilled high tempo style. Short shifts filled with high intensity are the Canadian norm these days.

Skilled American players left off the roster or not invited to the Americans camp included Phil Kessel, Bobby Ryan,  Tyler Johnson, Kyle Okposo, justin Faulk or Kevin Shattenkirk. While I agree the tournament style did strip the Americans of some excellent young talent like Jack Eichel or Johnny Gaudreau there was ample skilled players to select from to assemble a competitive team.

Torterella baffled almost everyone by not dressing Dustin Byfuglien or Kyle Palemieri in game 1. A tough highly skilled offensive defenceman and a 30 goal scorer scratched? No knock against Brandon Dubinsky or Jack Johnson but Byfuglien and Palemieri should both have been in game one based on skill level alone. Then in another hard to figure out move he opts to sit Dubinsky out versus Canada. The same Brandon Dubinsky that has checked Sidney Crosby into zero goals the last eleven times they have faced each other.

Team USA has now exited their last two international tournaments without a whimper. The bronze medal game at the 2014 Sochi Olympics a crushing 5-0 loss to Finland and now the 2016 World Cup.

The management team that assembles their roster needs to shift their focus from defeating Canada to creating a team that can defeat any and all comers, not just one. Team speed and skill are what the Americans need to add to the mix. Find a way to mount more offense and score more goals. Change their coaching strategy to a more high tempo offensive game. It’s a hard lesson to learn. To reprogram the way one thinks and sees things. The Flyers of the 70’s were forced by tbe Canadiens to alter their style of play to compete, the 80’s Oilers changed the game into all out offense and skill. Clutch and grab teams like the 90’s Devils have been forced to change their style as teams like Detroit, Pittsburgh and Washington raised the level of speed and skill even further.

While it’s always nice to pummel inferior opponents into dust team USA needs to change its core philosophy. Build to win each and every event. Become fast enough and skilled enough to take on any opponent and emerge victorious.

I enjoy the U.S. and Canadas’ hockey rivalry. The us versus them mentality, the we gotta beat these guys outlook. Canada and the US is almost always must see tv but the rivalry is not what it used to be. A rivalry suggests each opponent could emerge from every conflict victorious. Until team US decides to challenge the world on ice with a team built to win every game from top to bottom they will fail to contend and our rivalry will cease to exist.

Lets hope the Olympic games in Russia are a new beginning for US hockey. These tournaments aren’t as much fun without you.

That’s how I see it, from the bleacher seats.

 

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