Date: May 18, 2017

Why does USA continue to fail at the World Championship?

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The United States lost 2-0 in Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup to Finland, prolonging their gold-medal drought at the World Championship to a staggering 57 years. In fact, the Americans haven’t even made it to the gold-medal game since they won it in 1960.

Given the depth of players the nation possesses, this is quite embarrassing, to be frank.

Sure, Canada, Sweden, and Russia are all rich with talent, but countries such as the Czech Republic, Finland, Slovakia, and Switzerland have all played in at least one gold-medal game as recently as 2010.

You could argue that hockey is the No. 1 sport in most of those countries and that USA is more concerned with their football, baseball, and basketball. However, USA has more than double the amount of hockey rinks (indoor and outdoor) in its country than Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Switzerland combined, according to the IIHF’s website.

Furthermore, USA had 266 players play in the NHL this season, second only to Canada’s 451. Sweden was third with 91, per quanthockey.com.

There have been many years where USA was missing almost all of its top players, but 2017 was not one of those years. The team featured firepower up front with Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, and Dylan Larkin, stability on the back end with Jacob Trouba, Noah Hanifin, and Brady Skjei, and a good veteran goaltender in Jimmy Howard, who was coming off his best NHL season.

To make matters worse, they lost to a Finnish team missing just about everyone. The only players on the Suomi to play at least 20 NHL games this year were Valtteri Filppula, Sebastian Aho, Mikko Rantanen, and Jesse Puljujarvi. They got shut out by some goaltender named Harri Sateri.

Prior to losing to the Finns, the Americans had dominated the tournament. They were 6-0-0-1, scoring 31 goals and allowing just 14. They even beat both Russia and Sweden.

Perhaps the most logical theory as to why the States annually disappoint at this tournament is simple: the setting.

The worlds have been held in Europe every year since 1962, with the lone exception being 2008 when the tournament took place in Quebec City and Halifax.

Playing in front of a hostile European crowd can be awfully intimidating. They chant through the entire game as if it were a soccer match. American fans are outnumbered by fans of their European opposition regardless of which overseas nation is hosting the tournament.

Maybe even more importantly, American players aren’t accustomed to the larger international ice surface. Obviously, many European teams are made up of NHLers, but their supporting cast of players usually play overseas during the regular season and are therefore used to the big ice.

The European setting certainly plays a part, but perhaps USA’s failures at the worlds stem from a deeper meaning.

Realistically, how many American kids grow up dreaming of starring in the World Championship? Probably none, because they all grow up dreaming of hoisting the Stanley Cup, or winning Olympic gold.

This is not to say that the Americans don’t want to win and make their country proud. They certainly do.

However, when it comes down to a puck battle, or putting your body on the line, 33-year-old Topi Jaakola of Finland, who has played his entire career overseas, might just have that much more of a will to win than a young American player with a bright future in the NHL. For Jaakola, this is his Stanley Cup.

Day Thirteen At The Worlds

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By Associated Press

COLOGNE, Germany — The United States’ ice hockey world championship campaign ended Thursday with a 2-0 quarterfinal defeat against Finland, after a record-equaling run of six straight victories for Jeff Blashill’s young roster.

Mikko Rantanen and Joonas Kemppainen scored as Finland booked its place in Saturday’s semifinals.

“It goes without saying we’re bitterly disappointed,” said Blashill, whose team looked to be improving with each game following its surprise 2-1 defeat to co-host Germany in the opener.

“We believed that this team had the ability to win the tournament. They are a great group who cared, were selfless and played some great hockey. Unfortunately, Finland was better than we were today and I congratulate them.”

Canada edged Germany 2-1 to set up a semifinal showdown with Russia, which defeated the Czech Republic 3-0 with goals from Dmitri Orlov, Nikita Kucherov and Artemi Panarin.

Goals from Nicklas Backstrom, William Nylander and Alexander Edler gave Sweden a 3-1 win over Switzerland in Paris, setting up a meeting with Finland in the final four. Gaetan Haas had equalized for the Swiss.

Both semifinals take place in Cologne.

Canada outshot Germany by 50 shots to 20, but had to endure a nervy ending after Germany captain Christian Ehrhoff sent Yannic Seidenberg through to score short-handed with less than seven minutes remaining.

Ryan O’Reilly set up Mark Scheifele to score on the power play toward the end of the first period for Canada, which was thwarted by an an inspired performance from Germany goaltender Philipp Grubauer.

Canada had 20 shots to Germany’s one in the second period alone.

Jeff Skinner finally made the breakthrough with Mike Matheson and Scheifele involved before the end of the period.

Seidenberg pulled one back but Germany couldn’t force an equalizer.

Earlier, strong defense and a shut-out from Harri Sateri on his fourth start helped Finland surprise the U.S., which had beaten Russia to finish top of its group. The Americans outshot Finland by 26 to 20.

“We didn’t give up any goals so we feel we performed our game plan pretty well,” defenseman Juuso Hietanen said. “We didn’t give them any easy chances and we scored an important goal on the power play. Our defense was pretty good all night.”

The Finns had the best chance early on when goaltender Jimmy Howard denied Juhamatti Aaltonen on a breakaway.

Anders Lee was penalized for tripping at the start of the second period and Rantanen scored on the power play at the third attempt after Howard twice saved.

Howard, who finished with 18 saves compared to Sateri’s 26, produced another good block to deny Valtteri Filppula, but he was beaten by Kemppainen midway through the final period. Kemppainen swept the puck home after great interplay with Aaltonen.

Howard, who was the U.S. player of the game, said the Finns “made it tough on us all night long.”

Kevin Hayes, who was penalized for playing without a helmet at the start of the period, was then penalized again for slashing. Hopes of equalizing took another hit when Jack Eichel was sent to the box for high-sticking with less than two minutes remaining.

Lee, Johnny Gaudreau and Dylan Larkin were named the Americans’ best three players of the tournament.

In Paris, Sergei Plotnikov set up Orlov and Kucherov swept in the Russians’ second on a power play shortly afterward in the first period.

Overall, despite bossing possession, the Czechs were closed down well by the Russians, restricting their ability to get into good shooting positions. Russia wasn’t dominating but it did look comfortable. Czech frustration was summed up when forward David Pastrnak‘s stick broke in half on a slap shot.

“We played quite well in the beginning of the game, in the first period, but we weren’t scoring,” Czech coach Josef Jandac said. “When Russia scored they controlled the game for the next two periods.”

Panarin, the tournament’s scoring leader, wrapped it up off Kucherov’s cross-ice pass in the third. It was his fourth goal of the tournament and 14th point overall.

“It was a tough game. We didn’t start very well and the Czechs could have scored,” Russia coach Oleg Znarok said. “The ice isn’t very good here. We can say it’s very bad so it was difficult to play well.”

Promoting youth may be Hockey Canada’s greatest folly

hockey canada

By Kaitlin Cimini – Fanrag Sports Network

Shortly after USA Hockey announced the newest women’s ice hockey national team roster, Hockey Canada made public its short list of national team players in preparation for the upcoming 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games. Its national team, like the U.S. team, will begin training together in September.

Canada’s women’s ice hockey team has earned a spot on the podium every Olympic Games, the vast majority of those medals being gold. In the past four years since the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Canada has used competitions such as the IIHF Women’s World Championships or the Four Nations Cup to test various combinations of players, systems, and plans of attack.

While those particular iterations of Team Canada have rarely taken home the gold, Canada seems to have hit upon a system that allows it to test its players in a high-pressure environment without its Olympic reputation on the line.

The roster Canada displayed at the most recent Women’s Worlds struggled to come together as a coherent team. Canada simply didn’t click for much of the tournament, dropping games to the U.S. and Finland, both times letting its opponent set the tone of the game. The Canadians constantly played catch-up.

“We’re not getting the bounces that we do, or we have,” forward Meghan Agosta told The Star after Team Canada lost to Team Finland. “It’s just been tough hockey. We’ve just got to figure it out, come back together as a team.

“This is a test. This is a test for Canada. I believe in the girls and I know we believe in each other. We have a lot of skill and a lot of talent on this team. I know we could definitely play better.”

Poulin said “we have to find a way” at least four times in less than two minutes, SportsNet’s Kristina Rutherford wrote. “I keep saying it,” she said, “but it’s true.”

“It’s not our game,” Poulin added.

The team bounced back in time to shut out Russia, but the damage was done: Team Canada had to fight to earn a way into the gold-medal game. With so many questions surrounding Canada’s discombobulated performance, eyes turned toward the roster, which proved to be disconcertingly young, built for speed and shooting but unable to consistently capitalize on the flaws in their opponents’ systems.

Clearly, the comparative youth of the roster contributed to Canada’s poor performance at Women’s Worlds, but how much responsibility does it bear for the outcome?

Canada may soon find out. While its pre-Olympic national team roster is not an exact replica of the team iced at Women’s Worlds, the similarities are striking. While Canada has added experience to its roster, it has also added even more youth, swapping out players in their early twenties for others, even incorporating some in their teens.

Defense

Erin Ambrose (23)
Renata Fast (22)
Laura Fortino (26)
Micah Hart (20)
Halli Krzyzaniak (22)
Brigitte Lacquette (24)
Jocelyne Larocque (28)
Meaghan Mikkelson (32)
Lauriane Rougeau (27)

Forwards

Meghan Agosta (30)
Bailey Bram (26)
Emily Clark (21)
Mélodie Daost (25)
Brianne Jenner (26)
Rebecca Johnston (27)
Sarah Nurse (22)
Amy Potomak (17)
Sarah Potomak (19)
Marie-Philip Poulin (26)
Jillian Saulnier (25)
Natalie Spooner (26)
Laura Stacey (23)
Blayre Turnbull (23)
Jennifer Wakefield (27)

Goaltenders

Ann-Renee Desbiens (23)
Genevieve Lacasse (28)
Shannon Szabados (30)

Nearly half of the players on this roster are 23 years of age or younger: 11 of 23. The Potomak sisters ring in at 17 and 19, respectively. The potential offensive output is tremendous, however, and may very well be what tipped the scales in their favor.

While the low median is certainly indicative of the development in the world of women’s hockey being driven largely by the NCAA and CIS systems, it still shows an extremely young roster, one without much experience at the Olympic level, ostensibly prioritizing speed and offensive output over wisdom.

Olympic gold medalist and Boston Blades captain Tara Watchorn, for example, was left off the short list for Team Canada despite her leadership skills, precise skating and large frame. While Watchorn has a number of pluses and is still one of the top 10 defenders from Canada, her game is defense-driven and her footspeed is not on the same level as those who made this roster.

Prioritizing speed and shooting over experience may come back to bite Canada, as it did at Women’s Worlds. Team Canada has a little over six months to get its team into Olympic shape… and prove that its youth-driven approach can work.