USA Hockey’s bronze medal bust: ‘They look like the Russians’

USA forward Patrick Kane reacts after missing a penalty shot against Finland during the second period of the men's bronze medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

SOCHI, Russia – “They look like the Russians,” someone said in the mixed zone as American players were walking to their locker rooms, head down, long faces, empty eyes.

The reference, of course, was about the Russian loss to Finland in the quarterfinal of the Sochi Games. And this was said yesterday after the loss to Canada, not today.

It’s something that stuck with me – the two teams that are rivals, yet seem to have so much in common. Both teams had big expectations: The Russians as hosts and the pressure to win at home for the first time. The Americans as the team that was finally looking actually good enough to win the whole thing.

That “goal by Fedor Tyutin that wasn’t” glued the fates of both teams together in the tournament. They went into different directions from there only to meet the same fate at the hands of the player who seems to know the secret path to the Fountain of Youth – Teemu Selanne.

It was that goal that really started the goal-scoring struggle for the Russians (even the Norway game was close in scoring until the very end) with the US scoring freely as if they took Russia’s mojo. But over the last two games the US team looked like the Russians – searching for scoring, chasing that one goal.

“It’s embarrassing,” Artem Anisimov said after the loss to Finland. “It’s embarrassing,” US captain Zach Parise said after the loss to the same team, albeit in a bronze medal game.

“It’s something that will frustrate all of us for a very long time,” Parise continued. “It’s very disappointing the way the game shook out - with a medal on the line you get blown out 5-0. It’s unacceptable at this point, at this stage of the tournament.”

“We had a really good team,” Patrick Kane said. “We had a good Round Robin. And then we had a good game against the Czechs. And then everything kind of turned. We had a one goal loss, and today was just a really, really weird game.”

Kane, Parise, even coach Bylsma all talked about how much one game took out of them that affected the team in the remainder of the tournament. Just like the Russians and their one game that echoed till the end.

“Three-four games in the tournament our team played really well, had good games, good victories,” Dan Bylsma said after the loss to Finland. “The victory against the Russians and the Czechs in the fourth game. I think the fifth game took a lot out of us. It took a lot out of us emotionally, and getting back to that in this game wasn’t here for us.”

Bylsma also talked about the penalties, how the Finns capitalized on what chances they had, how it was tough to win against a team like Finland after falling behind.

I have certainly heard these words before. In a different language, by a different coach. But I have heard them. Don’t get me wrong, I am not even trying to compare the coaching. Just the feeling.

“It stinks. It’s tough," Patrick Kane said yesterday after the loss to Canada. “It sucks, what else can I say?” said Alex Ovechkin after the loss to Finland.

The two players who were looked at to lead their teams in scoring didn’t produce as expected. For different reasons. Yet the outcome was the same.

Patrick Kane said the loss to Finland was one of the most disappointing games of his hockey career. “I had some chances today, but didn’t really capitalize on anything.” He added: “It’s a really frustrating night for us.”

The US team just couldn’t find that scoring, whatever they tried. This looked eerily familiar again.

“The scoring in a tournament like this it really is only about the game and one goal, and the opportunity to get that goal.” Dan Bylsma said. “We weren’t able to come up with that goal. It erased the 20 goals before. Is having Patrick Kane on a penalty shot what you want? Yes, it’s exactly what you want. And we weren’t able to come up with that. Tonight it wasn’t about one goal. We weren’t up to the task.”

No, he didn’t throw Kane under the bus. Who would ever do it? Kane himself was frustrated with his performance.

“It’s kind of the way it went the whole time,” he said. “Whether it was confidence, not getting enough chances… Who really knows at the end of the day? I thought I had opportunities, obviously. No excuses. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough to help the team to win a medal. I was expected to do a lot more. When you come over here and put up zero goals and four assists in six games, those are not the numbers you want to see, so it is definitely disappointing.”

“It’s one of those things where it’s been a tough couple of weeks, but at the same time no excuses,” Kane continued. “I was here to play hockey and try to produce, and I didn’t do that. That’s what I am expected to do in Chicago too, so I will go back and try to do it there.”

But here both Russia and the US were beat by the same team and share a lot of the same fate – huge expectations and an embarrassing exit.

Two hockey teams, both alike in dignity,

In fair Sochi, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where both were beat by ageless hockey Finn.