Dean Lombardi wanted to build a Team USA that could beat Team Canada at the World Cup by means of gritty, grinding style. They had their shot Tuesday in Toronto.
And Canada came away victorious. Again.
All that talk about grit and physical play amounted to a 4-2 loss for Team USA, which is now officially eliminated from contention at the World Cup. The Americans have gone 0-2 through the opening two games of the round robin, after losing to Team Europe in a rather uninspiring — and equally concerning — display in the opener and failing to maintain a decent start against the Canadians.
They play the Czech Republic on Thursday. And then it is officially over for Team USA.
This one should sting. For a long time.
It’s completely fair to say this management group — with Lombardi as the GM and John Tortorella as its head coach — completely overvalued things like ‘grit’ and ‘intangibles.’
Phil Kessel would not have been able to play at this tournament due to hand surgery in the summer, a development that wasn’t revealed until the middle of July. But why was a prolific goal scorer left off the roster in the first place and others like Brandon Dubinsky penciled in ahead of him?
And then, there is this, just moments after Team USA lost. Game, set and match, Phil Kessel.
Further to that:
No Tyler Johnson.
No Bobby Ryan.
No Kevin Shattenkirk.
No Justin Faulk.
No Kyle Okposo.
All very notable snubs, especially after this showing, punctuated by the loss to the rival Canadians. And the result should open the floodgates to questions and criticism about why this roster was shaped this particular way.
Tortorella scratching Dustin Byfuglien — while dressing Jack Johnson — and Kyle Palmieri — and dressing Dubinsky — for his team’s tournament opener was questioned, especially after the final score.
The talent pool in the U.S. is there. They also have several up-and-coming stars — Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel or Johnny Gaudreau — but they played on the younger Team North America in this tournament.
But this management and coaching staff did have options. Better options, you can easily argue, for this competition. And it chose to venture down a path with a team that could bang and crash and block shots and, well, apparently not much else.
Team USA outhit the Canadians. By a wide margin (38-14), in fact. They won more faceoffs (62 per cent compared to 38 per cent) than the Canadians. Again, by a wide margin. But they couldn’t score like the Canadians could. Yes, they were unlucky, hitting three goal posts in the final period. But ultimately, they couldn’t match the skill and they couldn’t match the depth.
And now, they’re done.
Critics of this team, however, may only be getting started.