If Team USA wanted fans to start paying attention to the IIHF world championships, well then: mission accomplished.
Like the old Wide World of Sports tag line used to say: We're attracted to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. And it doesn't get more agonizing than watching a nation that earned a silver medal in the Winter Olympics stumble to the relegation round in its next international tournament appearance.
The U.S. (0-1-2) lost to Finland, 3-2, today in Germany. They entered the game knowing that a victory in regulation or overtime meant a spot in the qualification round rather than the embarrassment of the relegation round. But Finland outplayed them for most of the game, skated to victory and humbled a fellow hockey power.
The U.S. went up early as David Moss's(notes) pass to T.J. Galiardi(notes) of the Colorado Avalanche went off a Finnish defender's stick for the opening goal in the first period. Where the game turned: In the second period, when Leo Komarov scored at 15:52 on a blast from just inside the blue line that beat Scott Clemmensen(notes). This was a stoppable shot.
After dominating the second period, the Finns scored as a point shot deflected off Jarkko Immonen(notes) and into the net on the power play just 18 seconds into the period. Sami Kapanen(notes) (remember him?) scored later in the period for a 3-1 lead. T.J. Oshie(notes) scored a nice shorthanded goal to cut it to 3-2 with 18 seconds left, but it wasn't enough.
The shots were 43-22 in favor of the Finns. Yikes. Finland played very well inside their own zone, taking advantage of international rules that allow a tad more leeway for defenders than the NHL does.
According to Joe Yerdon of Universal Sports, Team USA will join Italy, the loser of France vs. a VIKINGSTAD-less Norway later today and presumably Kazakhstan. If the U.S. finishes in the top two of that round-robin tournament, which begins Saturday afternoon, they'll still be eligible for Worlds in 2011. If they finish in the bottom two, they're relegated to Division I and the humiliation of having to play in the D-I tournament next year for the right to get back to elite status for 2012.
(Ed. Note: We initially reported yesterday that relegation was a best-of-3 series, which isn't the case. Thanks to dedicated reader Kurt Boyer for the correction.)
Again, this roster is not exactly the best and brightest of U.S. hockey, but it should have been good enough to take two points from either the Danes or the Germans, which were both OT losses. But USA Hockey needs to answer for the absences of NHL players who otherwise should have played in this tournament. Check out the 2009 worlds roster; even without Olympians, there are some names that could have helped.
Not exactly a memorable day for North American hockey, as Canada lost to the Swiss for the first time in 76 years of world championship hockey, 4-1. Because their fans are so well-protected.
Stamkos suffered an upper body injury in the first period, apparently to his shoulder, returned later in the period, but didn’t play in the third with Canada down 3-1.
Stamkos’s status will be evaluated after the game, a team official said in an email.
Canada, unable to put up four lines due to Ryan Smyth’s injury, applied pressure on Swiss goalie Tobias Stephan(notes) throughout the game but John Tavares(notes), with his third goal of the tournament, was the only one to beat him.
And making matters worse for North America: Mexico didn't even qualify for the tournament. Aye carumba!