In 2017, the United States has won the men’s World Junior Championship, the men’s and women’s U18 tournaments and the women’s World Championship. For two weeks, it looked like the Americans were on the road to adding another gold medal at the men’s World Championships.
After a tournament-opening loss to Germany, the U.S. rebounded, winning six straight and finishing first in Group A. But the skill dried up early in the playoff rounds. Facing Finland in the quarterfinals, Team USA had its worst game of the tournament, falling to the Finns, 2-0.
The preliminary round brought so much hope with wins over Sweden and Russia, but the men’s U.S. team continued its string of bad luck in big games going as far back as the 2014 Winter Olympics, where they were shutout by Canada 1-0 in the semifinals. The World Championship loss was the earliest American exit at the tournament since 2014.
While the finish was less than hoped for, considering the roster and the play through the first seven games, there were signs of potential for Team USA in the coming years.
Team USA finished with a 6-0-0-1 record in the preliminary round but was extremely lucky in its win over Sweden. The Swedes had several more power-play opportunities than the Americans, but the team couldn’t finish. Viktor Fasth also played an uninspiring game, giving up four goals.
The next day, Henrik Lundqvist joined the team. It’s probable if Tre Kronor had the New York Ranger against the Americans, they would have been the ones skating away with a win.
But Team USA didn’t need any luck in beating the Russians, who were undefeated heading into the final game of preliminaries against the blue, red and white. The Americans dominated play, outshooting Russia 35-19 despite a heavy talent advantage for the Russians.
Nikita Kucherov, Artemi Panarin, and Evgeny Kuznetsov headlined the Russian offense, but not a single one his name on the scoresheet. Despite that, Russia had 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 leads in the first and second periods. Kevin Hayes, though, played the hero for the U.S., scoring twice.
In their previous games, the U.S. rolled over its lesser opponents. The team scored seven goals against Denmark and posted 5-3 and 6-1 wins over Latvia and Slovakia, respectively. Despite being the youngest team in the tournament, the Americans didn’t look troubled.
Even in the lone preliminary loss to Germany in the first game of the tournament, the Americans dominated play. They peppered Thomas Greiss with 43 shots, including 10 from Jack Eichel. But the Islander was a rock in net and held on for a 2-1 lead.
The quarterfinal game was much different from the start. The U.S. didn’t seem prepared and never looked like they had a shot at winning. Anders Lee led the team with seven shots, but offensive leader Johnny Gaudreau never got one on net. Gaudreau and Hayes’ chemistry from college carried over to the tournament, but the Finns gave them nothing Thursday.
The Americans actually had a shot advantage at the end of the game, 26-20, but 12 of them came in the third period while playing catch-up hockey. After a strong first seven games, one bad game cast a disappointing shadow on the whole tournament.
The Bright Side for Team USA
If you remove the last game from the U.S.’s schedule, things seem much brighter.
For starters, the roster had a bevy of talent that hasn’t been seen in a few years. Dylan Larkin, Gaudreau and Eichel were shocking additions, especially after the trio played at the World Cup last September. Lee, Jimmy Howard and Danny DeKeyser were key veterans that also usually don’t make the trip to the World Championships.
Maybe the biggest name attached to the team, though, was Patrick Kane, who was rumored to be considering joining. Ultimately, Kane decided to sit out the tournament, but if he had gone, he would have been the biggest American name at the Championships in quite some time.
With the NHL’s decision to not attend the 2018 Winter Olympics, this year’s team could be the start of a pattern of talent that’s to come, not just an outlier. Besides the World Cup, which won’t happen again until at least 2020, the World Championships are the premier international tournament for the next three years.
While the veterans played an important role on this year’s team, the youngsters elevated their game just as much.
Gaudreau, Larkin, and Lee led the team with 11, 10 and eight points respectively, but Clayton Keller, the youngest American on the roster at 18, also scored seven points, five of them goals. He notched a hat trick against Denmark and scored USA’s first goal against Sweden.
Charlie McAvoy also played a big role on defense as just a 19-year-old, though he only registered one assist. Jordan Greenway, Anders Bjork, Daniel Brickley and Cal Petersen all made the team despite never playing an NHL game, though none of them played a big role.
The ending for Team USA was less than desirable, especially after the way they played in prelims, but that play has also created some potential for future tournaments.