Six years ago, the difference between Canada and the United States in men’s ice hockey was a single overtime goal in the gold medal game of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Now, the gap is as wide as it’s been in a while.
Canada defeated the United States 4-2 Tuesday night in the preliminary round of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto. The defeat eliminated the U.S. from contention for the medal round. The Americans lost Saturday’s preliminary game 3-0 to Team Europe and have one more against the Czech Republic on Thursday before their tournament is over.
So, what needs to change to make USA Hockey great again? Well, it must start at the top.
The management team, led by L.A. Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, put together a flawed roster, one that focused too much on buzzwords like grit, toughness and jam. These attributes were favored over speed, skating and high-end skill, which are the three components taking over the NHL — just look the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning, for example — and recent best-on-best tournaments.
Mike Harrington summed up this flaw well after Canada ended the first period leading 3-1.
Justin Abdelkader is a nice player, but he should not be on a Team USA squad in major tournaments. Even though he’s recovering from offseason surgery, Phil Kessel wasn’t selected to the initial roster in May. That was baffling.
And where’s Kyle Okposo? He plays a gritty game but he’s also very skilled as a former 30-goal scorer. Paul Stastny is highly skilled as well, and he has the size to play Team USA’s physical style. Bobby Ryan, a five-time 20-goal scorer, also didn’t make the cut.
Neither did Justin Faulk, who’s among the best young puck-moving defensemen in the league. He drives puck possession, makes good decisions in his own end and skates extremely well. Jack Johnson was selected instead, despite being a much worse player than Faulk.
Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is a very good offensive player — 44 points in 72 games last season — and a solid puck mover. Surprisingly, he didn’t make the team. Nick Leddy, who’s excelled on the New York Islanders’ first pairing the last two seasons, also wasn’t selected.
Jonathan Quick has been the No. 1 goaltender for both games even though he’s the third-best goalie on the team. Cory Schneider is without question a better netminder, yet Quick continues to get the spotlight because of his two Stanley Cup rings.
Roster construction is so critical in these tournaments, and the U.S. management team made so many puzzling choices.
You can’t omit the players mentioned above and believe you have a realistic chance to beat this Canadian lineup loaded with future Hall of Famers.
Coaching is another major issue.
John Tortorella is lucky to have an NHL head coaching job. He should not be coaching the United States, too. This roster, clearly, was made to fit his style of play, which is outdated. His gritty style of hockey didn’t work with the Vancouver Canucks and it’s not working with his current club, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Mike Sullivan, who just led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup title and was an assistant to Torts at this tournament, should be the next head coach.
The United States built a roster to win a tournament in the 1990s. Unfortunately for Team USA, it’s 2016, where a much different skill set reigns supreme. Until USA Hockey realizes that, Canada will continue to dominate this rivalry.
Thumbnail photo via John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports Images