The eulogies are already being written for Team USA, but Mike Babcock doesn’t want to read them. Team Canada’s head coach has plenty of experience in short, best-on-best tournaments like the World Cup, and he knows one game doesn’t mean much. The Americans may have looked dismal in losing to Team Europe on Saturday, but that only means they’ll be more desperate against his squad on Tuesday.
“You know, I’ve been to a number of these events, and the team that loses today usually gets better tomorrow, and the team that wins today usually gets a little fatter tomorrow,” Babcock said. “The important thing to do is just live scared and get better tomorrow.”
Which is to say, it was a far cry from how the Canadians opened the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, where they squeaked out a 3-1 victory over the minnows from Norway. The Canadians went on to win the gold medal, and they didn’t lose a single game. But they didn’t fill the net like many expected them to, and they played under intense scrutiny the entire time. Who knows? Maybe all that scrutiny helped them stay the right level of “scared”.
As for the Americans, head coach John Tortorella is pulling out all the motivational stops, calling Tuesday’s showdown “our championship game.”
But more motivation won’t cure all that ailed the Americans in a 3-0 loss to the Europeans. Team USA will have to play a lot smarter, too. On Saturday, it was a 2-on-1 that led to the first goal against, and a 2-on-0 that put them behind by two. Europe was then able to focus on defending, surrendering quite a few shots but not so many prime scoring opportunities.
“I think we’re going to be able to chip out some of the glorious odd-man rushes we gave them early on for a couple of freebies,” said Tortorella. “I think we’ll get those chipped out, but the part of the game that bothers me most is creating some scoring chances, some better quality scoring chances.”
Depending what happens in today’s game between Team Europe and the Czech Republic, the Americans could be officially eliminated with a loss to Canada. That would be a disastrously quick exit for a squad that entered the World Cup with the motto, “It’s time,” and it would represent a massive failure by the general manager, Dean Lombardi, and head coach, Tortorella, not to mention all the players.
And that’s exactly why Babcock expects the Americans to be better. A desperate team can be a dangerous team. And a comfortable team can be vulnerable.