Explaining USA’s Pathetic WJC Performance

In their quarterfinal matchup against Russia, the US fell by a score of 3-2 to be the first team eliminated from the tournament. For a team that was thought to be one of (if not the) most talented the country has ever had, the tournament can be seen as nothing but a massive disappointment. It’s the second consecutive year the US has fell in the quarterfinals to the Russians, and as a result, not played for a medal. The US is now 0-6 in WJC elimination games against the Russians.

There are a lot of fingers that need to be pointed to explain this performance, but two groups do not deserve any blame at all. The defensemen and goaltenders for Team USA performed as expected and held up their end of the bargain. In 5 games, they let up just 9 goals and posted a collective .930 save percentage. That type of defense is good enough to win gold in this tournament.

Now, on to the groups that have some questions to answer:

Mark Osiecki & The Coaching Staff

From player selection to line combinations and in-game management, Osiecki proved to be way in over his head at this tournament. Many scratched their head at the inclusion of Miles Wood and Anthony Louis, and neither did anything to prove the naysayers wrong, both going pointless.

How the staff thought that Wood, a prep school player whose season had just started, could step in and play against the best players in the world in his age group is beyond me. Multiple point-per-game CHL players were left off the roster in favor of Wood.

In terms of forming line combinations, Osiecki set them in the beginning of the tournament, and refused to make any real changes despite their lack of chemistry. His only tactic was shuffling the various left wings (Motte, Milano, De Leo, Wood, Louis) throughout the lines. He never attempted to give the hot hand, Dylan Larkin, more ice time with better linemates. It was painfully obvious that the current combinations didn’t work, but he did nothing.

Worst of all, he acknowledged that Milano-Eichel-Tuch would work, but only went with them for half a game in the round robin. Eichel was visibly frustrated in the Russia game, and tried to do everything himself. Instead of reuniting the deadly line, Osiecki let his most talented forward frustrate himself to ineffectiveness.

Finally, he was unable to keep his team calm and disciplined when the chips on the table against Russia. The Americans took 8 minor penalties, the majority of which were careless and avoidable stick penalties.

Discipline Against Russia

Anthony DeAngelo (Terry Wilson /OHL Images) team usa
Anthony DeAngelo took two separate high sticking minors against Russia (Terry Wilson /OHL Images)

Mentioned above, a myriad of penalties early against Russia is one of the biggest reasons the US won’t play for a medal. In the first period alone, the US took five minor penalties. Russia capitalized on a 5-on-3 to score their first goal, their second was an even strength goal nine seconds after a US penalty had expired, and their third was on a power play.

The penalties killed US’s tempo throughout the first half of the game. In the first period, they managed just nine shots. In the third, when they took just one penalty, they managed 20 shots to just 5 for Russia. Avoid the penalties, and the result is different.

Paltry Power Play

For a team that was supposed to be dripping in offensive skill, the power play was very disappointing. They finished the tournament with just 3 power play goals on 22 attempts, a 13.6% conversion rate.

For a reference, Canada and Sweden’s power play units are operating at 50 and 47%, respectively. Russia gift-wrapped the US with a number of power plays in the second half of the game, but the US could cash in on only one of them.

A Young, Inexperienced Roster

One common theme of the World Juniors is that it’s a tournament traditionally dominated by 19 year-olds. One year may not seem like a lot, but it can make a big difference in players. Last year’s champion, the Finns, had fifteen 19 year-olds on their roster, and eight 18 year-olds. The Russians have twenty 19 year-olds, two 18 year-olds, and one 17 year-old.

This US team had just eleven 19 year-olds, nine 18 year-olds, and three 17 year-olds. They were the second youngest team in the tournament behind Switzerland, and it showed. When push came to shove, they didn’t appear to have the resiliency needed to get the job done.

Team USA in 2016

The good news for Team USA is that there are 12 players eligible to return for next year’s tournament. They’ll lose Eichel to the NHL, and possibly Noah Hanifin too. However, a returning corps of Larkin, Milano, Tuch, Matthews, Schmaltz, Werenski, Carlo, Collins, Nedeljkovic, and Halverson will be a good place to start. Hopefully the bad taste this tournament leaves will be motivation for next year.

20 thoughts on “Explaining USA’s Pathetic WJC Performance”

  1. USA Hockey – Affairs of State Hurt Players & Supporters

    Another International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championship (WJC) fiesta has come and went, and many of us are once again left frustrated, disappointed, and dumbfounded by USA Hockey. At the beginning of the WJC selection camp, it was evident deserving eligible aged players were not invited to attend the USA Evaluation Camp, and several players that did attend the camp were left off the final roster for less proven players. One only surmises that once again USA Hockey put their agenda ahead of the players, fans, and supporters of USA Hockey.

    Politics isn’t anything new in deciding player selection in these tournaments; one would only have to look back to the 2013-2014 WJC and see where Don Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada (Jan 4. 2014) called out the powers-at-be within Hockey Canada, “I’m gonna tell you why we lose…” Don Cherry goes on to cite Hockey Canada’s political reasons in selecting an equal majority of players from the leagues that comprise the Canadian Hockey League (CHL): Quebec Major Junior League (QMJL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and the Western Hockey League (WHL); instead of taking the best twenty-two overall players for the tournament.

    Once again, USA Hockey left off notable players from their roster, exclusions that attracted attention by NHL Scouts, The OHL Tonight (Week of Dec 15. 2014), The Hockey Writers (Jan 2. 2015), Sports Net (Jan 2. 2015), and others (a search of Canadian/USA media will locate numerous articles). Notably the players not invited to attend the USA WJC Evaluation Camp, or players left off the final roster where US-born players playing in the CHL. The majority of these players were higher NHL draft picks, and/or ranked higher in scouting reports than their roster selections, and possessed better statistics on their respective season.

    USA Hockey has become a body of lobbyist and a college hockey recruitment strategy (founding of College Hockey INC) for NCAA hockey and is failing to serve the true interest of US born hockey players and USA Hockey supporters. USA Hockey’s systemic problem is bigger than the NCAA vs. CHL; the NCAA has never been able to compete with the CHL in attracting top tier hockey talent and they never will, nor should they (since 1980 the NCAA, US High School, NTDP has had only four (4) players drafted 1st overall). However, USA Hockey through College Hockey INC created a propaganda filled campaign against the CHL. This propagated offensive by USA Hockey and College Hockey INC (NCAA) serves no interest in: truly allowing US born players to develop in a setting best designed for the player; berthing freedom for a player to choose where they play without repercussion (whether it be NCAA or the CHL); providing best interest concepts to the supporters of USA Hockey; nor choosing a biased free roster for the WJC.

    To highlight the USA Hockey obsessed phenomena with the CHL, Coach David Quinn, Boston University Men’s Hockey Team, was quoted by the Toronto Star, “…with us at Boston University, Jack (Eichel) has to play against men between 18 and 24 years old. It’s not like that in junior hockey. I don’t want to spit on the junior hockey leagues in Canada, but in my eyes playing more games in a season against inferior competition isn’t necessarily a good thing” (Dec 22. 2014). Statistically speaking, the CHL has produced more NHL draft picks than any other league, more 1st overall NHL draft picks than any other league, CHL players currently and historically comprise the majority of the composition of the NHL, and CHL products encompass the majority of NHL fifty-goal scores registrar; not to mention the results of Hockey Canada at the WJC games, to include the most recent dominant performance by Canada over an inferior United States team (Dec 31. 2014). It seems Coach David Quinn would rather fill the air with propaganda laced statements then promote the United States ability to place top tier hockey talent in both the NCAA and the CHL ranks.

    For the interest of young hockey players in the United States attempting to reach the goal of playing an elite level of hockey, a complete reconstruct of USA Hockey needs to occur, to include the forced exodus of executives, and a severed relationship with College Hockey INC. Financial supporters of USA Hockey (unfortunately it’s the tens of thousands of players at all levels) should insist on a new direction, encompassed by forward thinking coupled by modernization and renovation of USA Hockey management. Until renewal occurs, USA Hockey will continue to struggle in the true development of midget and junior aged players on the national stage, and will only serve a political and lobbyist existence.

    • The USA junior group has the old soviet union heavily biased closed mindset that the world stage is a battle of national development systems. Not serving your country by playing to win.
      The USA believes that the college system is one of men while the chl is that of inferior boys. No room for adaptation there. Blind ideology dominates. USA has a strong resemblance in mentality to soviets of the 1970s when the USSR wandered out west to cash in on western hockey bucks. Oldies like me remember it well. Funny how there is a Berlin hockey wall of sorts created by the USA. No doubt their nose is out of place by the IIHF decision to exclude USA for tournie venues. USA chooses to cut their own nose off to spite themselves by snubbing chl players.

      Scotty Bowman, the most successful hockey genius ( and pro-sports figure I know of)said “I found out that if you are going to win games, you had better be ready to adapt.”.

      USA has done the opposite of adapt by taking their junior hockey mindset back to the 1930s Isolationism. Truly bizarre how past failures/insanity are blatantly repeated.

      The best USA result is their loss in the junior 2015 tournie. Insanity is doing the same thing over again. In my opinion the USA approach epitomizes insanity and abuse by administration to cash in on college mega yankee bucks while screwing their country royally out of medals. Lets see if that loser insanity persists.

  2. I think what mike curtis means is that calling their performance “pathetic” is ridiculous. They are first off, 16-20 year-old kids playing against the best competition in the world. Sometimes you have bad, undisciplined games and lose. There’s not a lot of room for slippage in a tournament like this. And yeah, the power play was very static and perimeter-heavy, probably a bad coaching decision. But to say this was some awful tournament is laughable. Most games the US dominated. Canada was their equal or better, sure, and Russia capitalized on penalties, but for the most part the US was playing well. Lastly, I think mike curtis googled the writer’s name and found out he was a college roller hockey player, which, undeserved or not, doesn’t exactly scream street cred.

    • Yeah PM I don’t blame the kids. I blame the USA management & coaching that took a bizarre detached from reality approach. The off ice folks believed their massive egos of delusional fiction that they could illogically replace player muscle, experience and leadership with their supposed genius.. Never works.
      Gotta have the mental and physical aspect on the ice to match your opponents in that area. Especially on the world stage.
      Snubbing essential on ice aspects that key players like Mike MaCcarron have doomed the USA. USA has great hockey players that should have brought home a medal of some type. Nothing kills the on ice results more than the off ice failures.
      Eg Edmonton oilers. All the first rounders they get don’t win w/o the other key aspects.
      I feel sorry for USA kids as they were set up to fail and be humiliated by their management.

      • I don’t disagree there, with you or Schoeninger in terms of coaching or selection choices. There’s many other players that could have been very beneficial to the roster. It’s hard to say what would have come of it of course, but when you have as much talent as our roster did have and it still doesn’t click, it does seem like something was amiss behind the bench or in general management. That being said, even very good teams lose from time to time, and there’s a short window of opportunity. Reminds me of Canada last year in fact. It sucks, but I think as Schoeninger said at least in 2016 we will have something to look forward to.

  3. Leaving McCarron off the team was simply ridiculous. The dude is a beast, I’m glad that JOE brought it up. It’s true – he would have created much more space in the forward zone and he’s impossible to move away from the front of the net.

    • Yeah I don’t get the USA junior program. It lacked common sense, structure and focus as was seen on the ice. Loser team problems, especially with the richest team, start at the top with management and ownership Take the Edmonton Oilers. Top draft picks are not the issue, its losers at the top.

      WTH is east coast kid about? Mike MaCarron’s brother is in the edm oilers.system and all nhl teams want big MM.

  4. NCAA – are they students or are they playing ice hockey to make it to the next level. You can’t have it both ways. Plus, NCAA exisyts because using slave labor to make a lot of money for AD’s, NCAA execs, league execs, networks, and even school Presidents! What do you get….a failed system that rips off students and tax payers in the process.

    Get sports out of our education system and vice versa!

    No other nation relies on its education system to develop players for the pros and it shows! Shut down the NCAA and let the pro leagues form their college level farm feeder leagues!

  5. True, monster Yankee college hockey ego, along with its massively unmatchable sky high yankee bucks funding, was paralyzed at the very humiliating thought of losing to relatively low budget colonial CHL from genetically inferior Canada,
    The root of the loss was the USA team management goal hell bent on demonstrating fictional college hockey superiority propaganda at the expense of serving their nation properly by icing the best USA team. Instead USA hockey went on a college bragging / recruitment PR rampage resulting in loser dysfunctional ivy league arrogance as is often displayed in a Simpsons tv episode.

    Case in point, Mike McCarron who is on a tear in the OHL and now headed for a memorial cup championship with McDavid on the Eerie Otters. Mike had a 6 point game last week further rubbing reality salt in loser team USA wounds. His snubbing and others, made Team USA vulnerable in so many ways.

    I watched the USA right wing often get thumped in the Slovakia game ( and all through the tournie) by the Slovak D. Yes 3 soft goals won the game for USA. Notably refs swallowing their whistles while USA got away with constant pics, interference, holds, goalie spearing, etc also wore Slovakia down and kept one of the best tourny’s PPs from scoring.
    McCarron would have blown through all D and created a lot more open space for the fast but very young, immature, entitlement plagued and shallow USA players. In front of the net goalies and D would have been overwhelmed by MM who is best in his age group there.
    Maturity, leadership and muscle were severely lacking for USA. The refs made them look better than they were. USA may have the best juniors team. But USAmanagement is terrible as per the iced results.

    Modestly fair reffing in the Russia game caught up to the spoiled previously ref favored USA as bad habits resulted in well deserved USA penalties not called against Slovakia. Imagine the USA hockey angst if USA had lost to puny Slovakia in a fairly reffed game.
    Given the massive funding and player pool available USA hockey heads should roll. But then again serving college hockey recruitment strategy was the goal and not serving the nation’s tax payers and USA hockey well being.

  6. I’ve watch a lot of the tournament and all of the USA games and from what I see, there are too many guys playing as individuals, rather than as a team. Including Eichel. PP doesn’t set up at all and forechecking is only evident in the beginning of each game and then they stop. It’s a TEAM tournament. May be next year.

  7. USA Hockey almost always keeps a spot or two for younger players on this team to build experience so that when those players are 19 year olds, they have 2-3 tournaments of experience to draw on as team leaders. Finally, the word ‘pathetic’ should be saved for truly bad performances. This US team took Canada and Russia to the very final minutes in very hotly contested games, and won all their other games. While I agree that poor discipline and a sputtering power play were two issues that held the US out of the medals, this was a good US team that lost out on a very small margin of error – hardly pathetic.

  8. The US team was doomed from the start. Not looking into the talent laden CHL was a huge error. It’s great to look at NCAA or USA Hockey, but to rely on that and sprinkle in just a couple of great CHL players on the roster shows that the program is too weak. Look at the CHL players on all the teams and tell me they didn’t make the difference. Petan, McDavid, DeLeo, Bjorkstrand and the list goes on. This isn’t 1980 Miracle on Ice. The players have gotten better and show it nightly.

  9. Leaving Erne off the roster was a big mistake, experience coupled with size, grit and raw scoring ability were sorely missed. Look at his numbers in the Q, not sure what kind of statement coaching staff was trying to make.

  10. Adam Erne and Cole Cassels………….are we going back to the old Major Junior vs. College debate again?!?! Why would you leave such talented players off the roster for a prep school player???

  11. Bill is spot on..I am 52 years old and played at the minor league level and I do have the knowledge and experience to make a response. Unfortunately their demise began with the Canada game. They were intimidated from the drop of the puck. They looked liked deer in head lights and were pushed around the entire game and Osiecki never responded, or even looked like he knew how to rally his kids. Very disappointing. There was no emotion on that bench and it was transferred to the players on the ice. The bigger wingers needed to be much more physical in the corners as well as the front of the net. Our kids need to start showing the grit that the young canadian kids from Junior A show year in and year out!!

  12. I’d say his comments are bang-on. Instead of being so dismissive, why not refute his points.

    Did you think the US team selected the best players possible, that Osiecki made good choices about line combinations and PP tactics?

    • I really don’t understand your comment. What does being an ‘east coast kid’ have to do with anything? The statements made in this article are being repeated across the media today, as the problems with the US performance in this tournament were obvious to any hockey fan with even a slight knowledge about the players on the roster.

      How one of the top 3 or 4 players in the tournament (Larkin) never got paired with the teams best wingers, while the ‘top’ centre was clearly struggling, especially in the last period when you are down and about to be eliminated is a travesty. Mediocre coaching. Worse is that Larkin often saw 3rd line minutes despite being a leading scorer in the tournament. Ugly.

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