December 30, 2011
EDMONTON — That's big talk from the relegation round-bound, Jason Zucker.
Team USA covered all five stages in grief as well as the toast of Canada tonight, Czech Republic goalie Petr Mrazek, covered the net on Thursday at the world junior hockey championship. The Czechs' 5-2 win, on the wings of 52 saves from cooler-than-freon Mrazek, timely goals and inspired penalty killing, all but assured the Americans will play in the relegation round for the first time since 1999. No one even considered that a remote possibility coming into the week.
There was denial, via Charlie Coyle: "You see how many posts we hit." Winger Emerson Etem added the anger, saying Mrazek's exuberant celebrations over big Czech plays, which drew criticism when he did it vs. Canada but was perfectly acceptable against the U.S., "pissed us off obviously." (Etem then backed off by saying, "it didn't affect us," which he tellingly repeated) Then came bargaining — coach Dean Blais expressing hope out-of-its-depth Denmark could upset Finland to keep the U.S. medal hopes extant. The depression was collective. Then came acceptance, with Coyle talking about "trying to end the tournament on a good note" in a now irrelevant New Year's Eve game against Canada.
Then there was the U.S. captain trying to author Joe Namath moment in the wake of the Great American faceplant.
"We're going to beat [Canada]," said Jason Zucker, who was part of doing just that when the Blais-led Team USA beat Canada in the 2010 gold-medal game in Saskatoon.
"I dont really know what to say," forward J.T. Miller said. "Everybody in the locker room is still sitting there with their jerseys on. We left it all on the ice, there's not much more we can do."
One could also take Zucker's guarantee and run with it as Exhibit A that U.S. fixates a little too much on Canada at the world junior. It did have a truth kernel or two, though. Getting bounced to the relegation round was not for lack of ability or effort.
"There were no passengers," said Blais, architect of the 2010 team that won the gold in Saskatoon. "We had turnovers, almost every goal was when we had the puck and turned it over. We had guys out of position. Charlie Coyle was sick and hopefully he'll be ready to play tomorrow."
There are no excuses in this event, but Coyle being sick on the bench should not be overlooked. Nor should defenceman Derek Forbort being knocked out of the game after being boarded by Petr Straka just 2:21 into the first period.
Coyle was on the bench from the middle of the second period until the U.S. got desperate.
"I wanted to give it all I had," the Minnesota Wild prospect said. "I got a few shifts at the end but it was too late. It's a tough feeling but it is what it is.
"We hit a few posts and the bounces didn't go our way. It's tough to swallow."
Ran into a hot goalie
For the second game in a row they were upended by a team with a hot goalie in a game that was dead even with 10 minutes left. Mrazek, who made about 14,700 new friends, made his biggest stop by forcing Josh Archibald to backhand the puck wide on a penalty shot with 8:33 to play and the score tied.
The U.S. did everything but score on the next shift after that. After an icing coach Miroslav Prerost used his timeout. Twenty-seven seconds later, the Americans' youngest player, defenceman Jacob Trouba, turned the puck over at the Czech blueline. That created an odd-man rush and Petr Holik beat Jack Campbell with a backhand.
"We had icing before and we couldn't change up," said Tomas Filippi, the offensive hero with two goals. "He said just calm down, calm down, win the faceoff and start over."
The Czechs could dine out for the rest of the tournament on beating Team USA. They know there's still some tournament to go, starting Saturday afternoon vs. Finland. The winner gets second in Group B.
"It's something special to beat USA and go to quarter-final but tomorrow we have a game against Finland and we want to beat Finland, too," Filippi added. "It's not over right now ... we're going to enjoy it till midnight and then get ready for the next game."
It is all but over for the Americans (Finland is up 3-0 at this writing). Coming into this atmosphere this should have held no terror for them after their triumph in 2010 with Blais behind the bench. Now it is, welcome to their nightmare: facing a crowd all decked out in Canada gear, but having nowhere to go.
"We knew what was coming as far as atmosphere was concerned, more intense in today's game than [the Finland] game," Etem said. "It's tough, but we can't make excuses. If we think this was bad for us, tomorrow night's game is going to be... I can't even think of the words for it."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).