The World Cup of Hockey is good for a couple of things, but the biggest reason to watch has now been eliminated from the tournament. With a Russian victory over the Finnish squad, the electrifying Team North America is grounded. The bad news is that the World Cup of Hockey is a lot less exciting without the North American unit. The good news is that we still get to watch players like Connor McDavid and Johnny Gaudreau with their respective NHL clubs. That has to be thrilling for Canadian hockey fans who’ve suffered endless misery for a very long time.
The Tournament Blues
Team North America has left me with one question in particular; why doesn’t the NHL do this more often? The World Cup of Hockey is entertaining, but I’d rather watch a tournament of teams comprised of varying types and age-groups of players. Maybe you have rosters comprised of veteran points producers, savvy play-makers, or teams of under-23 phenoms like Team North America. International play is great, but there are barely enough national teams to host a tournament in the first place. Team North America, which was a cobbled-together roster to fill a spot, ended up being the most exciting thing in the World Cup. Why not replace the boring All-Star Game with something like this instead?
As an American, it feels weird to root for any team not named Team USA. And yet, that’s exactly what I did for this World Cup. I hated the coach, the roster selections, the coaching decisions, and the choice to make Kane a captain. I won’t get into all of these issues, but suffice it to say that Team USA was doomed to fail from the start. How else can you justify making John Tortorella the head coach if the expectation is to win the tournament?
Tortorella hasn’t accomplished anything of importance in a long time. Many will point to his 2004 Stanley Cup win as proof of pedigree, but the NHL is completely different now. His preference for shot-blocking and offense-deprived systems just doesn’t cut it. There’s a good reason the Canucks and Rangers have both fired him recently.
The most obvious flaw with the American hockey program is at the top level. Whoever put Dean Lombardi in charge of building the USA squad likely regrets the decision. Lombardi built a “Canadian-killer” out of guys who had no business being on Team USA. All due respect to Abdelkader, but he does not deserve top-6 minutes over guys like Phil Kessel (who wasn’t even on the team). Fans and coaches will harp on Kessel’s tweet, but his joke was spot on; Team USA is incapable of picking the right players to field a competent tournament roster.
One important thing to note is that a number of players chosen for the Team USA roster absolutely deserved to be there. Palmieri, Wheeler, and Byfuglien all needed to be on the ice for Team USA to have a chance at victory. Surprisingly, Byfuglien and Palmieri were benched early in the tournament. By the time Tortorella put the two in the line-up, it was too late to make a difference. Instead, Abdelkader and the Johnson brothers (not actually brothers) were slotted in to spots that belonged to better players.
Going forward, a lot is going to have to change about how Team USA is run. Favoring grit over skill in an international competition is inexcusable. Picking a head coach who agrees with that statement is even worse. I don’t need to go into why making Patrick Kane the alternate captain is a mistake either. All of this is fairly self-evident, so why couldn’t USA Hockey see it? Team USA was humiliated, and losing to the Czechs to secure a sweep out of the tournament only adds insult to injury.
World Cup Semi-Finals Previews
As you can tell, I’m not pleased with USA Hockey at all. The good news is that there are still four very good teams left in the World Cup of Hockey to root on! On Saturday, the Russians face the Canadians in what is sure to be a goal-scoring avalanche. Team Canada has limited scoring against to just a few goals this tournament, but Russia presents the biggest hurdle yet. A team featuring the likes of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Kucherov, and Tarasenko should frighten the competition. Russia’s defense, though lacking in star-power, has performed admirably well against very talented teams. There could be a surprise upset brewing in Toronto this weekend.
Sunday’s game will feature a battle between the veterans of Team Europe and the remarkably-talented Team Sweden. I’d be surprised if the Swedes fail to edge out Team Europe, but anything is possible. The coaching staff of Team Europe has gotten far more mileage out of its roster than was expected. After a poor pre-tournament showing, it’s nice to see the oldest squad advance into the final four. It’s a shame Team North America didn’t make the cut, but that’s a tale for a different day.