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USA hockey’s failure to medal in the men’s Olympic tournament is unsurprising, but frustrating

The United States played hard, but had some major flaws that kept them off the podium.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 12 Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

For the second straight Olympics, the United States has failed to medal in the men’s ice hockey tournament. In 2014, the team went home empty handed in Sochi after failing to show up for the bronze medal game in a 5-0 blowout loss to Finland. Now in the 2018 Winter Olympics, the team will return home with nothing to show for its efforts due to a 3-2 shootout loss to the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals.

It’s not completely surprising to see Team USA fall short of the medal podium, considering it was ranked as the sixth-overall favorites to win gold heading into the opening ceremony. The United States was not going to be on the same level as the Russian team filled with KHL players, nor the Canadians and their endless talent pool, with the roster they had.

Even with the NHL not making the trip, the tournament overall is quite a disappointing one for Team USA. Sure, a NHL-caliber roster would have likely saved them from being completely run over by the Russians 4-0 in the preliminaries, but the United States won only two games out of five in this tournament. Both victories came against Slovakia, who were able to shock the Russians in the opening day but then fell flat on their faces in every game since.

Team USA’s best players were college kids, and it wasn’t close

It almost feels like the United States could have been eliminated earlier in the tournament had a handful of college hockey players not shown up to play. Ryan Donato was the clear United States’ MVP from the tournament, as the 21-year-old Harvard forward had six points in five games. His five goals in the tournament were incredible difference makers, as the United States would have likely fallen in the preliminaries to Slovakia had Donato’s two tallies not carried the team to a 2-1 victory.

Donato added one final goal in Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss, but even he was unable to score in the shootout as Team USA was blanked in the final frame.

Alongside Donato were other college hockey standouts like Jordan Greenway, who had two points in the tournament, and Troy Terry, who had five assists. While the contributions on offense came from other sources like James Wisniewski and Bobby Sanguinetti, it was the college kids who looked the sharpest and made the most impact on a night-to-night basis.

Outside of one game, the United States struggled to score goals

The United States lit up Slovakia for five goals in their qualification playoff game, but the team failed to score more than two goals for the remainder of the tournament. Team USA may have looked to have turned the corner in that second Slovakian victory, but most of the offense came from the Donato, Terry, and Mark Arcobello line.

Arcobello was the odd NHL man out on Team USA’s second line flanked by two strong college players, but his two points in five games were key in getting the team as far as it did in the tournament.

Outside of that line, however, Team USA struggled to put pucks in the net. The team outshot every opponent in the tournament but one, the Czechs, but were consistently lacking a scoring touch from anyone that didn’t have the last name Donato. Captain Brian Gionta, a 39-year-old veteran NHL forward brought on to lead the team, had no points by the end of the tournament. Jim Slater, a 35-year-old NHL veteran, was a key piece in helping the United States even the semifinal game after the Czechs pulled away, but that goal was the only point he’d have.

The United States, ultimately, didn’t learn from Sochi

A big reason why everyone crowned the 2014 Winter Olympics an embarrassment for the United States was due to the construction and deployment of roster players. In Sochi, the United States favorited the grit and toughness of David Backes and Brooks Orpik over speedier players like Bobby Ryan and the scoring touch of Brandon Saad. That year, the United States built its team to outmuscle rival Canada, and instead came home empty handed because the team was unable to score goals.

While the 2018 team wasn’t helped by the lack of NHL players, all countries were on the same playing field. Yet, the offensive problem has persisted into yet another frustrating Olympic games for the United States. It certainly says something that Team USA’s best players in this tournament were legitimate NHL prospects instead of AHL lifers or NHL veterans past their prime.

Though players like Gionta and Slater have made for incredible stories of veterans getting one last shot at glory, these games were very unlikely to be the Miracle on Ice 2.0 for Team USA. Not when this rag-tag group of players had very little time to practice and prepare together to play on the world’s biggest stage.

Should the NHL continue to decline Olympic invitations, Team USA should take a hint from its strong, championship-winning junior hockey teams on roster construction. It’s probably unreasonable to field an entire squad of under-20 players with no Olympic experience, but a better balance of talent close to NHL-ready and experienced veterans with gas still left in the tank may just produce better results four years from now.

Canada destroyed everyone in hockey at the first Winter Olympics