It’s been 34 years since the Americans have been able to bring home a hockey gold from the Winter Olympics and expectations were high after their silver winning performance in Vancouver in 2010. In fact, this year, in Sochi, Team USA failed to place in the medal standings at all, with a very disappointing 5-0 loss to Finland in their final game.
An eleven second blitz in the second period helped Finland to cruise into the bronze medal spot and the remainder of the game showed a US Team that had virtually checked out of the competition. They played the first period with heart and then all but gave up.
Some felt that this would be the team that would finally match Lake Placid’s Miracle on Ice team from 1980 and bring home the treasured gold. They came on with a really big start with a 7-1 win against Slovakia that made all of the other teams aware that they were dealing with a group of men with their eye on the prize. Two days later, they took Russia in a 3-2 victory and then Slovenia with a wide margin win of 5-1 just a day following. With a place secured in quarter-finals, it was looking very good for Team USA.
The team managed to show up strong enough in that round as well, tromping the Czech Republic in a 5-2 triumph that took them to the semis to meet up with the Canadian team. This is where it all started to unravel for the US, losing to their Canadian counterparts in a shutout game of 1-0, leaving the group deflated and discouraged. Their final chance to medal up would be against Finland and they’re flagging spirit simply gave out.
Many look at the contests and feel that some of the members of the team selected for the Olympics might have been better replaced with others – the weak offense was clearly an area of speculation following the roster announcement that came only weeks prior to the start of Olympic competition. Swapping out some of the more robust, physical players for those with greater speed might have brought home at least a bronze, enabling the Americans to get past some of the trickier players on Russia and even Finland.
Some of the players saw it happening but just couldn’t seem to rally enough motivation in the group to bring the level of heart up to where it needed to be. Critics throw the money stones out as an excuse, blaming players for holding back so as not to incur injury that might impact them in the professional league action that was momentarily suspended to accommodate the games in Sochi. Of course, that re-opens the debate about professional players being eligible for the Olympics but that’s another discussion entirely.
Suffice it to say, that the rest of the world has been engaged in a deeper level of hockey development in the last few years and while Americans have also grown in the game’s development, the gap is still quite broad. It’s hard to predict what might occur in Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018, if indeed NHL players continue to play in the games at all.