Perception can be amazingly unstable in sports. One day you can be on top of the world and the next, rock bottom. Perception of the USA hockey team entering the Olympic semi-finals in Sochi was that the Americans could potentially bring back the gold.
Team USA went undefeated through the preliminary round match-ups, including a thrilling shootout victory over the Russian’s. That victory on top of being the highest scoring team entering the semis, had people convinced that the Americans were ready to earn the respect from the rest of the hockey world.
You had a good feeling about this US team entering the semi final game versus their border rivals. Even though the Americans had a good showing going into the semis throughout the tournament, they were a huge under dog to the reigning champions. If team USA wanted to be taken seriously across the world, they would have to defeat the team that took away their gold medal in 2010.
The first period was competitive both ways, but the tides turned quickly. Canada defeated team USA 1-0 in the semi-final round. It was a hard fought match by both teams, but the game was a bit more lopsided than the score indicated.
Jonathan Quick was remarkable throughout the sixty minutes, keeping his team alive until games end. He was the sole reason why team USA always had a chance to get back into the match. The team that entered this round as the highest scoring nation could not find the back of the net.
The Canadians defense was smothering all game long. The Americans were unable to find holes through the neutral zone to utilize their great team speed. Once in the offensive zone, USA could not get off the boards. With the bigger ice surface in Sochi, they were not a threat to score from the boards. They could not get near the slot to give themselves a better chance on Carey Price.
Carey Price posted a shutout with 31 saves, but he was not nearly as battle tested as Quick was on the opposite end. There are only a handful of golden chances that Price denied of the Americans to find the back of the net.
The defense was considered the weaker part of Team USA heading into Sochi, but they held up their end of the bargain against Canada. Canada is stacked with forwards across all lines, but they were held to just one goal. USA had seven 20+ goal scorers in the NHL on their roster, but was unable to muster one goal against Canada.
It was a tough defeat for team USA, there was so much hope for this team coming into their match up vs. Canada. Having the chance to break the hearts of those that did the heartbreaking just four years ago. It was difficult, but they had a chance to move on and play for a bronze medal the next day.
Team Finland knocked off Russia in the quarterfinals led by Tuukka Rask. Rask had an illness the day of their semi-final game against Sweden, so he was unable to go. If he had not been ill facing team Sweden, they could have won. Instead, Finland fell 2-1 to Sweden.
Finland gave everything they got to receive the Bronze medal. Finland went on to a 5-0 rout over team USA. The first period of action was competitive, but Finland scored two goals within 11 seconds in the opening minutes of the second frame. Once Patrick Kane missed two penalty shots in the game, the air was sucked out from the USA bench. This same USA team that came into the semis as the highest scoring team, failed to score one goal in their final two games.
So perception of team USA entering Friday’s semi final game was promising. They were perceived as a team that could make a gold medal run. Perception of the same team just two day’s later, a complete failure.
When everyone look’s back at the 2014 Sochi Winter games, they will remember T.J. Oshie and his amazing shootout performance. They will remember defeating Russia on their home ice in a nail biter. They will also remember losing to their archrivals in Canada while failing to score one goal in the two most important games of the tournament.
This will be a painful memory for the Americans because they had a golden chance to earn respect everywhere by making a run. Instead, they overwhelmingly underachieved when it counted the most.
NHL play resumes this Tuesday with a make up game from earlier in the season. It will be interesting to see how the majority of these players play right after the Olympics. Some players will thrive off of the excitement they had playing in Sochi for their countries. Some of them will have painful memories of what could have been at the Olympics. These athletes will need to get it all together quickly because this is the most important stretch of the season.
Playoffs are near upon us and some teams are in need of making a run just to get there. Which players will be able to get past the Olympic games and put their sole focus just on their teams chances at a post-season birth? We have the months of March and April to see just that.