Overconfidence precedes carelessness. Over the past couple days, truer words could not have been spoken for the two United States Olympic ice hockey teams. On Thursday, the US Women’s team blew a 2-0 lead in the final four minutes of the gold medal game against Team Canada. They would lose that game in overtime. Today, the undefeated US Men’s team was eliminated in the semifinals, barely putting up a fight against Team Canada as they lost 1-0. In both cases, the elimination happened because of poor decisions made by the United States players and coaching staff.
Yesterday, the US women had the game in the bag. Their opponent could not muster much offense throughout the game, and any chances that did arise were quickly snuffed out by goaltender, Jessie Vetter. An early powerplay in the third period gave the United States a two goal lead as Alex Carpenter was left alone at the side of the net and Hilary Knight found her linemate for an easy tap in. It looked like a dagger in the heart of the Canadians gold medal chances, who showed very little emotion and effort up to that point. That all changed with just under four minutes left in the game. An odd deflection off a shot from Canadian forward Brianne Jenner cut the US lead to one, and suddenly, momentum shifted.
The US women spent the remaining minutes of the game simply trying to fend off the Canadian’s attack, a task they were unsuccessful at accomplishing. Just moments after a chance to put the game away deflected off the post of an empty net, Canada tied the game when Marie-Philip Poulin found a misplayed puck by Vetter and quickly slipped it past the goaltender. The decision to play the puck by the goaltender allowed Canada to tie the game, but it was not the one that sealed the team’s fate. Minutes into the extra time, penalties by Jocelyne Lamoureux and Hilary Knight put the US down two women on the ice and eventually allowed the Canadians to score and take the gold. The poor decisions to assume at two goal lead would hold up late in the game, to play the puck unnecessarily at the end of regulation, and to risk the gold with unnecessary penalties in overtime eliminated the United States women in their quest for ice hockey gold.
The United States men had the opposite problem. From the very puck drop, the Canadian men controlled the play and dominated puck control. Perhaps it was overconfidence coming into the game, having gone undefeated in the tournament up to today’s game and seemingly scoring at ease, but the United States men were unable to generate any scoring chances. Though the only goal of the game, scored by Canadian forward Jamie Benn, was preventable by some better decisions by the United States player, sometimes credit has to be given to the opposing team for an excellent play. This was one of those times. It initially appeared as if defenseman Jay Bouwmeester would take a slapshot from the point, but instead, he froze the US defense with a windup and quickly shot the puck in the direction of Benn, who was able to deflect the puck past US goaltender, Jonathan Quick.
The real issue with the Men’s US hockey team started long before the game against Canada. USA’s coach, Dan Bylsma, was a big factor in deciding the roster of the US team. Two players picked for the team also play for Bylsma outside the Olympic, when Bylsma is the coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Defensemen Paul Martin was a reasonable choice for the roster, as his play this year was well deserving of the honor. The choice of his teammate, Brooks Orpik, was not. Orpik was said to have been chosen to add a physical force and a veteran calm to an inexperienced US defense, but neither aspect showed up in these Olympic games. The bigger ice exposed Orpik’s slow skating and he often made more mistakes than many of the younger defensemen on the team. It did not burn the United States in the previous games, but in the game against Canada, he was victimized for the only goal against and almost caused a 2-0 lead minutes later if not for an amazing save by Quick.
Bylsma’s favoritism toward Orpik and Martin caused him to scratch one defenseman for game after game, and it was one defenseman the United States could have used today. Carolina Hurricanes defenseman, Justin Faulk, was one of the first defensemen chosen by the US selection committee, called a “lock” to make the team early in the season. And for good reason, as his resume playing for the United States speaks for itself. In the two World Championship tournaments Faulk has represented the United States in, he put up 14 points in 18 games. Inexplicably, Faulk was the constant oddman out, a healthy scratch for every game until today’s game against Canada. Injury to Martin forced Bylsma’s hand and caused him to put Faulk into the lineup. Unfortunately for Faulk, and eventually for the United States, Bylsma only played Faulk for one shift the entire game. His entire Olympic experience amounted to a grand total of 1 minute, 15 seconds of ice time.
Canada would win the game rather easily, getting the shutout from goaltender Carey Price in their 1-0 victory. It was a fate the United States could have avoided just as easily. Overconfidence and poor decisions by the United States coaches and the players cut both the men and the women’s ice hockey team’s goal for Sochi gold short, in both instances, eliminated by their neighbors to the north.
Editorial by Jonathan Gardner