Team USA hockey failed to bring home a medal from Sochi. Coming off of their 2010 performance in Vancouver where they were one goal away from a gold medal, the 2014 result was extremely disappointing. Though demoralizing, the result wasn't exactly a surprising one.
If you look back at the PDL Staff predictions from February 12th, you'll see that three writers believed the U.S. wouldn't take home a medal. However, expectations grew after the exhilarating shootout win over Russia and a dominant performance over the Czech Republic.
The question must be asked: Was Team USA's failure to win a medal in Sochi a step back for American hockey?
No, this Olympics was not a step back for American hockey. Although the Olympics is the most public display of a national hockey team, to say the entire American development program took a step back is objectively wrong.
The Americans came into this Olympics with gold medal aspirations after losing the gold medal by one goal in Vancouver and failed to medal. Should you be upset? Absolutely. Should you demand more from the senior national team? Without a doubt. It has nothing to do with American hockey development. Put the blame on the GM and Assistant GM for not picking the best roster. Blame the coach for his questionable deployments at times. Most of all, blame the players for failing to show up for the semifinals and the Bronze Medal Game.
If you sat down with hockey journalists 10 years ago and said that the U-18's and the U-20's should be expected to win the gold medal in international competition you would be laughed out of the room. Nowadays, the United States are one of the favorites to win the World Junior Championships year in and year out, the U-18's consistently medal in international competition, and, more importantly, the National Training Developmental Program churns out more and more prospects every year.
An argument can be made that the NCAA system doesn't allow for player development in the same way that the Canadian major junior system does due to the way that the NCAA requires its players to maintain their "amateur status." Having said that, there are plenty of Americans who go through the ranks of the NCAA and are considered top-level NHL talent, including Jonathan Quick (UMass), Derek Stepan (Wisconsin), Zach Parise (North Dakota), T.J. Oshie (North Dakota), and Kevin Shattenkirk (Boston University). On top of that, there is plenty of talent who have represented the United States in international competition who didn't make this current Olympic team but will make a big splash when their time comes. Guys in that group include Seth Jones (USNTDP), Jacob Trouba (USNTDP and University of Michigan), Nic Kerdiles (USNTPD and University of Wisconsin), Matt Grzelcyk (USNTDP and Boston University), and Riley Barber (USNTDP and Miami University).
While this setback in the Olympics looks gloomy, know that there are plenty of good times ahead in American hockey on the international stage.
Fourth place was a reasonable result heading into the tournament.
Just because they easily beat Slovakia and Slovenia doesn't mean expectations of rational people should change. That's what I wrote in January when a not-so-good US WJC team missing as much talent to the NHL as Canada got off to a hot start and "flamed out" in similar fashion.
Fact is the youth of American hockey will finally become the paramount players expected in four years time (Kreider, Galchenyuk, Saad, Jones, etc.) and will finally usher out the Orpiks and Wheelers of this team. It sucks to finish like that but from an objective standpoint, but I'm not surprised at all.
In 2018, I think the gap will finally be closed to the point where no, they're not trotting out John Tavares on the fourth line, but they will have enough pure skill to go toe-to-toe with anyone. This has become evident by an arguable domination at the youth levels, especially the U-18 where Canada's best talent isn't often too busy in the NHL to compete.
I don't know if Jeff's point about NCAA hockey is the best indicator. Americans use the CHL just as much as Canadiens use the US development system (i.e. Crosby and Toews, to name a few). Brandon Saad is a guy I made no mistake about needing to be on this team. He played in the OHL for a bit before making the Blackhawks prior to last season.
As we saw, nobody was standing on the same ice as Canada this go-around, though maybe with a few less Claritin, Sweden could've made it a game. But if players are allowed to go in 2018, which is a whole different issue, I don't see it being so easy for our neighbors to the north. I don't forsee a day in my lifetime where the Americans are favored over the Canadiens, but I definitely think the gap is closing far quicker than this tournament may let on.
Was it a step back? Not if it prompts some soul-searching and revision of the selection process.
If they're stubborn and stick to the current plan? Yes, and next year will be too.
I long for a day where there aren't one or two snubs. I want it to feel like there were 20+ snubs because U.S. hockey has that much depth. I feel like we should already be at that point, but currently it's still a ways off. In four, eight or even 12 years, I'm still not convinced that the pool of talent will be any deeper.
It's a small sample size to go off of, but that's how Olympic hockey works. The U.S. looked dreadful against Canada. I'd argue that 2010's U.S. team would beat the 2014 installment with ease. That's a problem. I'm not convinced the addition of a Bobby Ryan or a Keith Yandle would have been the answer.
Overall, I think the U.S. has goaltending figured out. However, when it comes to pure offensive power both from forwards and defensively, there's a ton of room for improvement. Currently the system seems to churn out more forwards who can crash the boards and grind down low, but it's producing very few pure scorers. That's an area which needs to be addressed.
To me, the biggest problem was that the U.S. had zero offense coming from the defense corp. in the Canada game, and more or less in the Finland game, aside from one Carlson chance. They played a game where they seemingly were forced to try and score from the fringes and didn't have the shots to get scoring opportunities from those fringes.
Paul Martin (and, in a more wistful nostalgia way, Brian Rafalski in Vancouver) were gravely missed.
Too bad there wasn't an American d-man at home with a reputation for putting up points...
They won silver in 2010. No medal in 2014. Step back , simple really. Anything else is an excuse.
I think after watching Canada we see America has some catching up to do. It reminds me of a younger brother trying to intimate his older brother. That is what America tried to do.
I thought a lot about what Mike was saying, and he isn't as wrong as I thought. America is close. We should all be happy about that, But we need something different. A signature style. I don't know what that is, but until we find it, America will always be Canada's little brother.