“We have practiced enough,” John Tortorella said yesterday. “We have talked enough, we have gone through all that process. Let’s play the damn game.”
Well, the damn game finished 4-2 for Team Canada tonight in Toronto, eliminating Tortorella’s Team USA from World Cup contention. With a whimper.
The winless Americans still have to play the winless Czechs on Thursday, but it will be a meaningless affair for both sides. Team Europe and Team Canada have both advanced to the semifinals. They’ll play each other tomorrow for first place in Group A.
For the Americans — who came into the best-on-best tournament trumpeting the slogan, “It’s time” — it was an embarrassing, demoralizing, dismal performance.
They lacked creativity on offense.
They had numerous defensive breakdowns.
They did not show much resilience.
They did not look like a team with a sound plan.
In two games, they were outscored by a 7-2 margin. On Saturday, in a game they couldn’t afford to lose, they were shut out by Team Europe, 3-0.
Now the blame game starts.
It begins with the coach, who was always a controversial choice. In 2014, Tortorella was fired by the Vancouver Canucks after one disastrous season, and he admitted he deserved to be. But Team USA’s general manager, Dean Lombardi, felt that Tortorella had learned some valuable lessons, so he gave him the job.
“John’s had a lot of success, but what I was most intrigued by was that he was willing to admit he’d made mistakes,” said Lombardi. “He freely opened up as far as mistakes he’d made with players, maybe even times with his system, as well as the media. That takes a lot.”
Upon getting hired, Tortorella talked about his plan for Team USA at the World Cup.
“It’s about pressure,” he said. “It’s about attacking. And let’s forget about the X’s and O’s, it’s about a mindset. It’s about a team that needs to feel good about itself before this tournament even starts, needs to feel strong mentally about itself. I think intangibles in such a short tournament is huge.”
The roster would reflect Tortorella’s philosophy. Players that liked to engage physically, like Justin Abdelkader, were chosen over skilled goal-scorers like Phil Kessel. On the back end, it was big Erik Johnson over a puck-mover like, say, Kevin Shattenkirk.
“We are going to know who we are,” Tortorella vowed. “And we are going to play our game.”
And after falling to Canada, he doubled down on the plan.
According to Tortorella, the problem for the Americans wasn’t the roster or tactics. It was a simple matter of execution.
“We didn’t play well enough,” he said. “But you guys can beat up the roster all you want. You look at some of those players on our roster, there are some pretty good skill players, and we just simply did not do enough offensively. And we self-inflicted quite a bit in the two games. We gave some easy goals, and you just can’t do that in a short tournament.”
He added, “I thought the guys were prepared, but we blow up, self-inflicted, and they surged, and we had no answer. We kept trying to catch up the rest of the game and just couldn’t get it done. ”
Meanwhile, Kessel took to Twitter:
Bottom line: this World Cup is going to sting for USA Hockey, and it’s likely to lead to some soul-searching. What kind of hockey do the Americans want to play? What do they value most? They tried it the hard-working, gritty way and it didn’t go very well. Is there a better way?
And hey, maybe there isn’t. Maybe right now there just isn’t enough talent to match up with Canada. Maybe there will be one day. But until that day arrives, maybe the Torts way is, in fact, the best way.
Let the debate rage.