USA burned by Canadian speed. Can they regroup in time to win bronze tomorrow?

Ken Campbell
Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 14 - United States v Canada

SOCHI – Team USA defenseman Ryan Suter was asked for his thoughts on losing to Canada in the semifinal of the Olympics and he replied: “We didn’t show up to play. It was kind of frustrating.”

Team Canada could not have more dramatically denied the Americans the opportunity to show up to play if it had sent them to the wrong arena.

In the end, USA will play in the bronze medal game against Finland Saturday instead of the gold medal game Sunday because it looked passive and tentative. Despite having the last change that comes with being the home team, it couldn’t shake any of its lines away from the defensive shackles the Canadians put on it. The speed and authority of the Canadian team put the Americans on their heels for much of the game.
So perhaps you give credit to the opponent. It’s kind of strange, really, that going into the game, the Canadian team was being criticized for not going to the net enough to create offensive opportunities, while the Americans were being lauded for using their speed and size to create all sorts of chances and goals. But it was almost as though that dynamic was completely flipped around. It was Canada that was assertive with the puck and the American skaters who were being pushed to the outside.

As for the matchups, Canadian coach Mike Babcock was able to get his line of Jonathan Toews between Patrick Marleau and Jeff Carter out as often as he wanted to against the Americans’ high-flying unit of Joe Pavelski between Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk.

“The matchups in the game kind of went the way we wanted them to go before the game,” said U.S. coach Dan Bylsma. “That was the matchup we were looking for as well. (When it comes to matchups), it’s pretty difficult to think about matchups when their fourth line has Rick Nash. There’s talent right from the top to the bottom on every line.”

The Americans couldn’t use the speed they displayed in previous games, largely because they could never chip the puck behind the Canadian defense and then go to get it. Their speed was also nullified by the fact the Canadian team seemed to have as much of it as they did. In terms of the speed of both teams, there might not have been more of it on one non-speedskating ice surface in the history of the Olympics.

“They played a fast game,” Bylsma said of the opponent. “They came at us with 20 guys tonight. They came at us with speed. They came at us for 60 minutes and that was a fast game. That was as fast a game as I think I’ve ever been a part of. There was lots of speed out there and we weren’t able to counter that. We weren’t able to match that as much as we would like.”

The Americans will now have to prepare for a bronze medal game against a team that has made a cottage industry of winning bronze medals. On paper, it’s an enormous mismatch, which the Americans should win easily. But Finland is never, ever, an easy out and it’s even more pronounced when there is a medal on the line.

The guessing here is the Finns probably wish they were facing Canada instead of USA on Saturday. Bronze medal games are where the gold-or-bust mentality works against Canada. If gold is not on the line, there’s a good chance Canada is going to mail it in. But for the Americans, it will still be a medal worth competing to win. After they come to grips with the loss, it’s doubtful the Americans will want to go home with nothing to show for their trip to Sochi.

It will be interesting to see what Bylsma does with his goaltending. He could very well opt to play Ryan Miller in the bronze medal game. Jonathan Quick has been tremendous, but Miller has an impressive resume, too, and with it being a back-to-back scenario, Bylsma might want to go with the fresher netminder.

“The team we’re playing against is in the same situation,” said center David Backes, “so we’ll have to regroup, put on our gear and play our butts off for our country one more time and hopefully bring back some hardware.”