Team USA fires back at Phil Kessel, social media criticism

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/players/3983/" data-ylk="slk:Phil Kessel">Phil Kessel</a> holds his hockey stick following the team’s defeat to Canada in the Men’s Ice Hockey Semifinals USA vs Canada at the Bolshoy Ice Dome during the Sochi Winter Olympics. (Getty Images)
Phil Kessel holds his hockey stick following the team’s defeat to Canada in the Men’s Ice Hockey Semifinals USA vs Canada at the Bolshoy Ice Dome during the Sochi Winter Olympics. (Getty Images)

TORONTO – Less than 24 hours after several American born hockey players jabbed at Team USA on social media, the group hit back at the criticism following their 4-2 World Cup loss to Team Canada.

Shortly after the contest, forward Phil Kessel sent a passive aggressive tweet about his not being included to Team USA. Forward Bobby Ryan sent out a tweet joking about the Americans’ exit. Sled Hockey Paralympic gold medalist Josh Pauls also ripped Team USA in scathing fashion.

Team USA players didn’t find any humor in those tweets as they all went viral.

“It’s disappointing. It’s almost to say that we were coasting or don’t care, weren’t representing our countries as well as we could have and for other guys that have worn the jersey, it’s disappointing,” Team USA forward David Backes said. “I understand there’s hard feelings if you weren’t picked for the team or if whatever, but the comments are, I think – as a team guy and as a guy that stands by my teammates, win lose or draw, it’s a little distasteful and aggravating but everyone’s got a Twitter account and you can have freedom of speech to say whatever you want and so be it. But those comments don’t get lost in the fray and those comments are there and have been read and I think will be remembered when whatever happens going forward happens going forward.”

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The tweet by Kessel appeared to create the biggest stir. Kessel, who is one of the top American born goal scorers in the NHL, wasn’t picked for the team as the U.S. brain trust opted for a more physical, defensive-minded group. Through two games of the tournament Team USA was outscored 7-2 and was eliminated from semifinal contention after their loss to Canada.

“The thing I’ve kind of gone with and I’m going to stick with it is I’ve played with Phil in Sochi and I don’t want to speak for him but I hope he doesn’t want to disrespect anybody in our locker room just like all the guys in our locker room don’t want to disrespect anyone outside of it,” Team USA forward Derek Stepan said. “As for social media, I know that there are some guys that are very passionate about USA and that’s great to see and again. It just comes back to the respect level from me. I hope that it was not in disrespect and was just about passion and wanting to succeed in the USA but I don’t want to go much further other than I certainly hope it wasn’t out of disrespect. It was more out of just being passionate about their colors.”

Added Stepan, “I don’t think our group looked into (the tweets) other than we just hope that it wasn’t an attack at us. I don’t think anybody thought it was funny on our side. Obviously especially after the way it’s gone, it stung our group anyways and to have outside pokes and jab, it doesn’t help but again – I hope that it wasn’t out of disrespect and that’s all we can really do at this point. “

Kessel wasn’t part of Team USA’s first 16 picks, which came in early March and then wasn’t added after Ryan Callahan’s injury knocked him out of the tournament. It seemed unlikely Kessel could be added after Callahan’s issue because Kessel underwent surgery on his hand in the offseason. The injury issue led to some confusion from the players on why he decided to display his feelings of the snub on Twitter if he couldn’t play anyway.

“Everyone can have their opinion. They can say what they want to say. We were here. We tried hard, we played hard, and came up short,” forward Zach Parise said. “Didn’t Phil have surgery? I don’t think he could even play, anyway. His tweet didn’t really make sense.”

The jabbing of Team USA on social media likely had to with the polarizing nature of this team. The decision to take grittier players over some of the country’s top offensive talent was one of the issues. The choice of Tortorella, who is known as a coach who has shunned a more free-flowing skating type system for more shot blocking and defense, as bench boss was also seen as an issue. Then in the first game, Tortorella scratched All-Star Dustin Byfuglien and then saw his group get shut out.

“I think the management team did their research and had tough decisions but what they got out of their research was that this is the way that this team can win the tournament and built the right way, coached the right way and executed the right way, this is our best shot,” Backes said.

“Hindsight is a beautiful thing for the pundits and you get to second guess everybody but I think in their heart of hearts they said this is the way they’re going to win the tournament and I’m 100 percent behind that, that this is the way we’re going to need to be constructed and need to play in order to win the tournament. Fact is we were constructed this way. We didn’t go out and play the right way and the players didn’t execute on the ice and I don’t know – criticism is going to be spread out. I’ll take my fair share, but we didn’t get the job done. Open season maybe for a little while here. We’re going to need to take the criticism. Listen to some, maybe block out others but in the end we didn’t get the job done and it didn’t fold out the way we wanted to. I still believe this is the way we needed to be built. We didn’t go out there and do it.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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