February 22, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Gregg Krupa

Americans leave empty-handed, but there was nothing wrong with their team

Team USA players skate off the ice after losing to Finland on Saturday. (Jung Yeon-Je / Getty Images)

Sochi, Russia Let the postmortems begin.

After coming to the 2014 Sochi Winter Games as contenders for the gold medal in men's ice hockey and playing so well in its first four games that some thought they had emerged as favorites, the USA lost to Finland in an absolute blowout, 5-0, in the bronze medal game.

"I've been saying all along, we felt like a group who could contend for a gold medal, then we had an opportunity to compete for a bronze medal and, before you know it, we're going home empty-handed," said the defenseman Cam Fowler, of Farmington Hills.

"The only feeling I have right now is disappointment."

Some will call it a disaster.

Some will urge that every manager who helped organize the team -- David Poile of the Predators, Brian Burke of the Flames, Ray Shero of the Flyers -- be fired.

They will say Dan Bylsma, a guy from the Lake Michigan shore, should never coach another national team.

If this was Canada, Congress might investigate.

There would be calls for blood tests on each and every American male under the age 35 to see if testosterone can be detected, just to make sure the national gene pool is not depleting. Those of a certain age found with the most male hormone would be forced out of school and into hockey camps.

As silly as that sounds, it is quite nearly as silly to think the 2014 version of Team USA was a disaster.

It was a disastrous result, no doubt. But it was one bad game.

Some observers will likely say the whole selection process needs to be tossed in the garbage, and forget trying to pick the best team the guys capable of instant cohesion, in a short tournament. Just grab the best players at each position, the stars!

Ryan Miller, the former Spartan, should have played in goal instead of Jonathan Quick, others will say. Miller never would have yielded five goals in a medal game.

And Bobby Ryan, what a huge mistake leaving him off the roster, when they obviously needed goals.

Hogwash. Pure, simple palooka.

If they had it to do over again, Team USA should do it just like they did it. The last two Olympics have been outstanding effort, each getting talented squads close to gold.

Their selection process is sound. Their management team just fine, and the 2014 roster was good, too.

They beat Russia and almost dethroned Canada, a nation eternally deep in hockey talent, losing by a goal for the second Olympics in a row.

At most, perhaps they peaked a little soon.

Before that loss, in an enormously energetic game that began in the Bolshoy Ice Dome the night before the bronze medal game at 9 p.m., the USA outscored opponents 20-6.

The game against Finland, which started 22 hours later?

The Amerikanska, as we are called here, should follow the advice of a brave warrior who is recuperating in New York somewhere, after the docs pulled a loose piece of one of his vertebrae off of a nerve and out of his injured body. When the stuff hits the fan for the reconstituting Red Wings and they have "one of those nights," their captain, Henrik Zetterberg, has some simple, utterly logical advice.

"Flush it!"

Their game against the Finns stunk, it came from somewhere little spoken about in polite company, except by parents who have to change a lot of diapers, and the disposing of it requires the same methodology.

Crank the handle and listen to the "Wo-o-osh!"

They gave up two goals in 11 seconds with Ryan Suter and Kevin Shattenkirk, two of the most stalwart defensive defensemen in the NHL, having some difficulty.

So, what? They should have been left of the team?


"We unfortunately gave them a turnover and an opportunity to score, which they did," Bylsma said. "Then right off the draw, they capitalized on a loose puck in the neutral zone and got up, 2-0."

Patrick Kane then failed to score on two penalty shots, one because the puck rolled a bit and Tuukka Rask made a fine toe save, and the other because Kane fired it off the cross bar.

So, what? Kane should have been left to head for the Caribbean for a couple of weeks, instead of playing in the Olympics?


The other three goals? All on power plays, on penalties that either should not have been called or taken, like when Kane tried to reach for a puck and put his stick in between the legs of one of the Finns.

The other two? Marginal calls.

This was a good USA men's hockey team. They went through most of the early games, including a fairly talented team from the Czech Republic, like a freshly-sharpened scythe through a sheet of paper.

They stood up to Russia, in Russia, taking the offense out of some of the finest talent at forward in the Winter Games. They withstood the pressure in that idiotic skills competition some folks think should decide a winner of a hockey game, of all things the shootout.

They held a talented team from Canada, composed of guys who know that in the eyes of their countrymen they can win a half dozen Stanley Cups in their careers without completely making up for a loss to the United States in the Olympics, to a single goal.

A bit of better luck, and they would have played for the gold.

Were they a little more gassed at times than Finland? Yes, but the Finns' game Friday started 27 hours before the bronze medal game.

Shred it, and get rid of all the managers and Bylsma?


Just beat Canada, instead of losing by a goal, again, and the stuff that needs to be flushed now will take care of itself, next time.

Of course, with the selfish NHL owners conspiring to opt-out of the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, the theory may never be tested, in the Winter Games.

But a good management team, selection system and coach yielded a good USA team that had a terrific shot at the gold in Olympic men's ice hockey.

If they ever get to do it again, they should do it pretty much like they just did it.

Despite a game that simply needs to be flushed.