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Shea-ved Ice: USA’s Gut-Wrenching End To Olympics

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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The Olympic hockey tournament has sadly come to a close. Once again, Canada sits atop the hockey world after a rather dominating performance throughout the tournament.

We should be used to this by now, but Sidney Crosby rose to the occasion on the world’s biggest stage again. While it wasn’t an overtime game-winner, his second period breakaway goal broke Sweden’s will.

As much as it pains me to say it, Canada was clearly the best team in this tournament. It wasn’t even close.

In six games, they allowed just three goals. In the knockout stages, they allowed just one goal to Latvia and then shutout Team USA and Sweden.

You have to tip your hat to them. They got better with every game and their defense proved to be the difference in the tournament.

For me, I’m taking solace in the fact that Crosby and Chris Kunitz at least won gold after knocking out my country.

Four years ago, when Crosby scored in overtime to win gold, I was left numb. I was upset that USA lost, but Crosby had scored the goal. I couldn’t exactly be mad at the guy that had just brought a Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh the previous summer.

This time around, it’s entirely different.

The loss to Canada was crushing.

Scratch that.

The two consecutive days of losing to Canada was gut-wrenching.

The American women were just over three minutes away from avenging Vancouver’s gold medal game loss to our neighbors to the north. Then, it all evaporated.

The image of a clearing attempt squarely hitting the post of an empty net will never leave my mind. They were 3:26 away or fractions of an inch away from securing their first gold medal since the women’s game was instituted in the Olympics in 1998.

Now, some have said that the women’s game shouldn’t be allowed in the Olympics because Canada and the United States are “too good.”

If that’s the best argument you can come up with, you must surely be joking.

Look around the Olympics this year. Should we drop speed skating because the Netherlands won almost every medal there was to win? I’m not just talking about gold medals. They literally won nearly every color in every event for both men and women this year.

Just because a country is “good” in a particular sport isn’t an argument to drop it from the Olympics. The fact of the matter is that the USA and Canada hockey programs see the value in the women’s game and invest time and money in it.

If the other countries are belly-aching about North America being too good, the answer to the problem is pretty clear.

Quit whining and do something about it. Invest the time and money in the young girls of your country to grow the women’s programs. It’s still mind-boggling to me that hockey-rich countries like Russia, Sweden and Finland are so far behind North America.

Anyway, the next morning, Team USA had a chance to avenge the women’s loss by beating Canada to advance to the gold medal game.

It didn’t happen.

USA barely had a pulse in the offensive zone in the game. They simply couldn’t generate a thing and eventually fell 1-0.

They fell into playing the way Canada wanted them to play. They weren’t able to use their speed as well as they had in the previous four games of the tournament. This was a team that had scored a whopping 20 goals in four games and got shut down by Canada.

After the game, several Team USA players said “they didn’t show up” or other things of that nature. If you can’t get up for an Olympic semifinal matchup with your arch-rival to the north, there’s something horribly wrong.

Some chalked it up to them just having an off-day. Okay, that’s fine. We’re all human. Things happen and people have off-days all the time.

No biggie right? Shake it off and go win bronze against Finland tomorrow.

Wrong.

Flat out, horrendously wrong.

USA looked pretty good for most of the first period. Finland had a couple of chances, but the Americans carried the play in the period.

Then, two goals in 11 seconds in the second period sent USA into a tailspin of selfish penalties and moping on the bench.

I never like to accuse players of quitting. Most athletes are too proud to ever quit, no matter how dire the situation appears.

In this case, Team USA quit. They showed absolutely no heart and deserved the 5-0 drubbing they received.

Once the deficit climbed to 3-0 in the third period, Team USA seemed more concerned with settling scores than trying to actually score.

If some of this sounds painfully familiar to you. It should. You don’t have to look far either.

Just look at the Penguins’ playoff runs the last two years and you’ll see the similarities.

Is it all on Dan Bylsma? Of course not. He can only do so much motivating and tinkering on the bench.

There’s certainly some blame on him for the team not being prepared to face Canada. However, when the team quits on you, what else is there left to say?

Sure, you can make the excuse that the loss to Canada was deflating and carried over to the game against Finland. It’s a reasonable explanation, but this had the feel of a team looking for a reason to give up.

It very much had a feel of “we’re not playing for gold, so why bother?”

Do you think Finland looked at the bronze medal game that way?

Judging by the look on Teemu Selanne’s face after the game, you’d have thought he won gold and it was brilliant.

To me, earning a medal in the Olympics is a great achievement that should excite you to no end. No matter the color, you’re an Olympic medalist. That’s an elite club of athletes.

Of course, everyone wants gold. Every athlete wants to win.

If you ever have an opportunity to win a bronze how many of you would pour everything you had into it?

The loss to Finland brought an unmerciful end to three straight days of gut-wrenching hockey by Team USA.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, but the program has four years to figure it out.

In fact, there’s a lot to figure out. Will the NHL send their players again after several injuries were sustained? Time will tell.

To me, I don’t care if the NHL participates or not. It doesn’t matter to me if the professionals are out there competing in a best-on-best tournament or if it’s a group of college and junior players.

To me, I root for the sweater and the USA crest on the front of it. If you’re selected to wear that sweater and represent this country, I will stand behind you 100 percent.

As long as you give it your all, I’ll accept any outcome, win or lose.

I just question how many guys that wore that jersey on this year’s men’s squad can say they left it all on the ice.

The good news is that the tournament is over and the Penguins will be back in action on Thursday.

Hopefully, Crosby, Kunitz and the rest of the team are amenable to winning silver this spring.

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sheavedice

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