The men’s hockey teams from the USA and Canada’s Olympic journeys have been cut short. Team USA and Canada have lost in the Olympic Men’s hockey quarterfinals. Canada lost 2-0 to team Sweden, and The United States lost to Slovakia 3-2 in the shootout. Neither team represented the best of each country since the best players and coaches are playing in the NHL. However, it is still shocking that the first place team going into the Quarterfinals, The USA, and the defending Bronze medalist, Canada, will not be in the semifinals.
Team USA was built of primarily young NCAA athletes and top prospects. They had fun underdog energy and used their speed and skill to win blowout and tight games alike; they seemed poised after winning the preliminary round to make some noise. However, they failed to capitalize on a 5-on-3 opportunity and allowed Slovakia to tie the game with 43 seconds left in regulation. The special teams were the death knell of Team USA’s Olympic men’s hockey hopes. That and the refusal of David Quinn to allow Matty Beniers, the 2021 2nd overall pick, to take a turn in the shootout. Now I believe that shootouts are not real hockey and should not determine elimination games. Even though some of Team USA’s best hockey moments have come in the shootout, and they can be fun to watch, it is a coin toss and barely an indication of which team is best. The USA was the better team for most of the game but lost due to failure in special teams and a faulty tie-breaking method.
Hockey Canada galaxy brained their roster to the point of putting together something that wasn’t very far above mediocre. In the absence of NHL talent, Hockey Canada focused on veteran presence and “grit” when constructing their team, including a few young pieces like Mason McTavish, Kent Johnson, and Owen Power. However, their focus on grit caused them to create a team that was not competitive and lacked the skill in this tournament. They could not build up a good enough record in the preliminary round and had to go head-to-head with team Sweden. While the game was scoreless until the third period, it still seemed like Canada struggled to get good looks and scoring chances. They also failed to play Devon Levi again. In such a low-event game, goaltending matters even more, and if Levi is supposed to be this bright young goalie, why did Head Coach Claude Julien refuse to play Levi? In fact, why did Julien bench Johnson in the third despite his status as a top ten prospect? What did young players do to get blocked by Hockey Canada? Youth, speed, and skill are things this iteration of team Canada desperately needed. Yet Hockey Canada and Julien seemed to adhere to the old hockey logic that veteran presence and grit are more important than skill.
Team USA and Team Canada’s quests for a medal were both cut short for the men. That failure in the quarterfinals was due to team construction and/or coaching for both. Team USA’s underdog run is over, and Team Canada fails to defend their medal. The players, especially the prospects and college athletes, should be proud of their accomplishments in this tournament. Still, USA Hockey and Hockey Canada really need to think about how their team selection program works and whether or not the coaches selected can get the job done.
The United States and Canada’s Gold medal hopes rest on the women now as both teams are set to face off on the night of the 16th at 11:10 ET to play in the finals. Both the US and Canada’s women’s teams are the best in the tournament, and they proved it game after game. So even though the men’s Olympic medal journey is over, you can still watch the women play for the title of best in the world. They are the last hope for their respective countries to bring home Gold in hockey.