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TORONTO – Team USA leaves the World Cup of Hockey not with a whimper, but with a thunderous flop.
As well as an own-goal, a bad goal and the gall to finish this tournament with a 4-3 defeat to the shorthanded Czech Republic on Thursday night.
The Americans (average age 29.5, with 12,707 NHL games of experience) finished last in Group A with an 0-3-0 record, tied with Finland (average age 26.3, with 5,605 NHL games of experience) for last place in the tournament overall.
Milan Michalek scored two goals and Petr Mrazek made 36 saves for the Czech Republic, who won their first game of the tournament despite missing star players like David Krejci and Tomas Hertl with injuries.
Team USA start Ben Bishop was pulled after giving up four goals on 20 shots in the first two periods, replaced by Cory Schneider.
Defenseman Zbynek Michalek got the Czechs on the board first with a long blast that beat a screened Bishop at 12:44 of the first period. The Americans struck back at 14:28 of the first on the power play, as Joe Pavelski scored his first of the tournament on assists from Patrick Kane and Zach Parise – scoring only his second international play point since the gold medal game in Vancouver in 2010. He also took two minor penalties.
Defenseman Ryan Suter scored the next goal.
For the Czechs.
Act of treason from Ryan Suter here. Just kill Team USA with fire. pic.twitter.com/ecQxmtGCsh
— Jordie ???? (@BarstoolJordie) September 23, 2016
Suter accidently slid the puck behind Bishop with his stick while trying corral it. Michalek was given credit for the 2-1 lead at 6:03 of the first.
Team USA knotted it at 14:13 of the second on a beautiful one-timer from Justin Abdelkader from a cross-zone feed from Dustin Byfuglien. The tie lasted 2 minutes and 37 seconds before defenseman Andrej Sustr – of the five career NHL goals in 194 games – snuck the puck through Bishop and the post for the 3-2 lead. It was then 4-2 just 39 seconds later as Michalek netted his second of the game.
Down 4-2 in the third period, Ryan McDonagh cut the lead by sneaking his stick around a sleepy Jakub Voracek while the Czechs were on the power play for his second of the tournament. But that was as close they’d get, including a 6-on-4 power play to end the game with Schneider pulled.
After the final buzzer on the 4-3 loss, defenseman Dustin Byfuglien jumped a Czech player, clearly sending a message for the next international tournament that Byfuglien likely won’t be selected to play in.
For Team USA, this was a miserable reminder of their bronze medal game against Finland after losing to Canada in the Sochi Olympics semifinals. While their effort was no doubt better than that pathetic display, the results were the same.
“We’ve got a lot of guys here form that Olympic team, so hopefully we learned our lesson there,” said forward T.J. Oshie before the Czech game. “Just can’t and don’t want to go home 0-and-3. Not that the game means a whole much, but for us personally, for the feeling in that locker room, it’s our duty to go out and show how we should be playing.”
Or go home winless. Mission accomplished.
That said, the Americans do take some things back to their NHL teams for training camp.
They carry the excuses for their loss to Canada and, more damagingly, their loss to the European misfit team.
They carry the excuses from the GM about the way this team was build, and about the ineffective coach he hired.
They carry the criticism of former national team members who openly mocked management after the Canada loss.
And, of course, the carry the responsibility for, perhaps, forcing USA Hockey to finally rethink its slavish commitment to grit and “caring” over skill, and obsessive “Blue Collar Guys Beat Canada” team building.
For that, we can be thankful.
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