Defiant Lombardi doubles down on America’s controversial roster choices


The architect of the disastrous U.S. World Cup entry has defended his blueprint.

GM Dean Lombardi took to the podium on Thursday, just hours ahead of his club’s meaningless finale against the Czechs.

That today’s game has no meaning falls largely at Lombardi’s feet — the club he put together was unable to muster much of anything, especially on offense, in a pair of losses to Team Europe and Canada.

And for that, Lombardi is taking major heat.

But if he and the rest of the American brass have shown anything over the last 36 hours of stinging criticism, it’s a refusal to back down.

Or admit the wrong guys were picked.

“Let me say this,” Lombardi said on Thursday, per ESPN. “If you’re talking about Justin Abdelkader, Blake Wheeler, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Kesler, David Backes — I’ll take those guys any day, any day.

“Those guys have big time heart and when I talk about caring, they’d be the nucleus of the caring and they compete, and they can play for me any day.”

That response was to questions about Phil Kessel‘s exclusion from the team — other exclusions, too — and Kessel’s subsequent tweet, which sent off a firestorm about the selection process.

Ah yes, the selection process. USA Hockey’s decision to go with grit over skill, fueled primarily by incessant stick-measuring with Canada, came under fire right from the start, and that’s largely why the backlash has been so severe.

It’s not just that the American team blew up. It’s that literally everyone predicted the implosion.

Yet there are no apologies coming from the braintrust.

Much like head coach John Tortorella did in the wake of Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to Canada, Lombardi staunchly defended USA’s roster choices, and the vision that led to those choices.

There was no backtracking on his theory the tournament “clearly goes through Canada.”

There was, however, a frank admission about the role that vision played in a listless 3-0 loss to the Europeans — a loss that, hindsight being 20/20, was probably more damaging that the Canadian defeat.

“It’s not to say you overlooked them, but I think even the connotation was Europe, so it wasn’t a real team,” Lombardi explained, per CSN Chicago. “It was kind of like, it’s not the same as when you’re going up against what these tournaments are all about, and that’s the nationalism factor.

“I think even just the name, you kind of just said, ‘ah, let’s get through this and get to these guys [Canada].”

To call Lombardi’s philosophy antiquated doesn’t even do it justice. His incessant attempts to compare this squad with the famous ’96 US World Cup team — a victory that happened 20 years ago, by the way — were inherently flawed, something he pointed out after the fact:

(Was Lombardi unaware he wouldn’t have a month to unify his group?)

If there is a silver lining to any of this, it’s that USA Hockey now knows what to avoid for future international best-on-bests.

These tournaments aren’t won by bringing lunch-bucket, hard-hat guys who respond better to motivational speeches and stirring national anthems.

They’re won by bringing your best.