Team USA left searching for answers after World Cup failure

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TORONTO (AP) Members of Team USA gathered for a few drinks after they were eliminated from the World Cup of Hockey.

There was a lot to discuss.

The United States was surprised by Team Europe and wasn’t good enough against Canada, leading to two losses and a cascade of questions. John Tortorella as coach? Too much grit? Not enough skill? What might change after another all-too-familiar early exit from an international tournament? The pipeline of young talent for next time around?

A few days isn’t enough time to answer all those questions, especially for players whose job was to play a certain style of hockey – not put together a roster or pick the coaching staff.

“I liked our team,” winger Zach Parise said Wednesday. “I thought we played hard. It’s not a player’s job to speculate who should or shouldn’t be on the team before or after the tournament.”

Phil Kessel took his shot. Left off the team along with scoring forwards Kyle Okposo and Tyler Johnson and defensemen Justin Faulk, Kevin Shattenkirk and Cam Fowler, the Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins winger tweeted after the U.S. loss: “Just sitting around the house tonight (with) my dog. Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn’t put my finger on it.”

Related: Team USA takes issue with Kessel’s tweet

U.S. management went with a sandpaper style of play that almost resulted in a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics but hasn’t worked since. Center David Backes said he believes that style of hockey can still win if executed correctly.

“To come here and flop like we did is extremely disappointing,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “Obviously we have to examine ourselves and what more could we have done and how can we get better for future tournaments.”

The 0-2 start revealed the Americans brought too much physicality to a skill game. Canada, Russia, Team North America and others have thrived with fast-paced, entertaining hockey. Speed has been king at this international tournament, but Backes noted that the Americans “weren’t going to out-skill Canada.” With the aim of beating Canada, U.S. general manager Dean Lombardi instead built a big team with an edge in hopes of neutralizing the talent of the top hockey power in the world.

Instead, the World Cup showed that depth of talent is everything. Leaving more skilled players at home was too much to overcome.

Kessel was the Americans’ leading scorer and best player at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but he was left off the roster. Hand surgery after the playoffs may have put his availability in doubt, but USA Hockey’s management team clearly overlooked him and others.

The U.S. opted for old-guard players like forward Brandon Dubinsky, defensemen Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson and grinder Justin Abdelkader. Tortorella, as old-school a coach as there is, wanted to play his brand of hockey and stood by the roster construction and style.

Canada outclassed the U.S. in a 4-2 whacking Tuesday night that wasn’t as close as the score. Not only could the Americans not beat the tournament favorite but they weren’t able to knock them around, either.

“As a team we have some bigger guys who are physical,” Canada captain Sidney Crosby said. “It doesn’t mean they have to chase hits.”

In the aftermath of the loss, players talked about hitting the post and being close. They also defended their teammates against criticism, even while conceding the results weren’t good enough.

“There’s perhaps a gut check for everybody that’s on this team to know or to evaluate really what they were able to give or what they gave for the red white and the blue,” Backes said.

Tortorella was not made available to reporters on Wednesday. Lombardi was expected to speak Thursday before the U.S. finishes round-robin play with a meaningless game against the Czech Republic, which also failed to reach the semifinals.

Patrick Kane, who did not score a goal in two games after winning the Hart Trophy as the NHL MVP last season, wouldn’t blame his coach for this failing.

“Tortorella is just one of the most passionate guys I’ve ever seen about hockey,” Kane said. “I’ll never say a bad thing about him. He’s just a great coach. We didn’t show up for him.”

Lombardi and other executives will take heat for the World Cup debacle, though it might lead to philosophical changes about how to beat Canada and win elite tournaments. It will help at future events to have players like Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Brandon Saad and Seth Jones, all of whom played on the 23-and-under Team North America and weren’t eligible for the U.S. team.

“There is definitely a fantastic future coming here,” Tortorella said Tuesday night. “There are some good young kids there that I think they’ll bring some juice to the program.”

For now, there is the final game against the Czechs. Parise said the U.S. won’t repeat what it did in against Finland in the bronze medal game at the Sochi Olympics, essentially mailing it in.

“All of us probably really regretted what happened that game,” Parise said. “You ask yourself, `Could we have played harder with the bronze medal on the line?’ … We’ll come and play hard just like there is a spot on the line to get in.”

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.