TORONTO (AP) — Left with nothing play for at the World Cup of Hockey, coach John Tortorella told his United States players to play a game for themselves.
They played hard, gave effort in a meaningless round-robin finale but still lost 4-3 to the Czech Republic on Thursday night. With an 0-3-0 record and a minus-6 goal differential, the U.S. finished seventh among eight teams, ahead of only Finland.
“The bottom line is we leave here with nothing,” Tortorella said. “Certainly we can’t be happy about that.”
Previous losses to Team Europe and Canada eliminated the Americans from contention. While Canada, Sweden, Europe and Russia prepare for the semifinals this weekend, the U.S. and Czech Republic played out the string in front of a half-empty arena.
Joe Pavelski, Justin Abdelkader and Ryan McDonagh scored for the U.S., which did not unravel in a meaningless game like it did in the 2014 Olympic bronze medal game. Ben Bishop allowed four goals on 20 shots in two periods, and Cory Schneider made seven saves in relief.
Petr Mrazek stopped 36 of the 39 shots he faced to backstop the Czech Republic to its first victory. Milan Michalek scored twice and Zbynek Michalek and Andrej Sustr each had a goal.
U.S. players promised they wouldn’t mail it in with nothing to play for. A result of human nature, it felt like an all-star game with a lack of real physicality as everyone wanted to get through without getting injured.
“I thought some guys gave some really true efforts,” Tortorella said. “We just didn’t find a way to win the hockey game.”
Afterward, Tortorella broke from his usual routine and addressed the team.
McDonagh said the message was, “Keep your heads up, you’re all great players. You all represent your country to the best of your ability and you were a great group to be around.”
Frustration boiled over for Dustin Byfuglien at the final buzzer as he went after Czech defenseman Michal Jordan. A healthy scratch in the tournament opener, the Winnipeg Jets defenseman had a beautiful pass to set up Abdelkader’s goal and was one of the best players on the ice.
A collection of fans spent stretches of the first period chanting, “Let’s go Kessel!” and “We want Kessel!” Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins winger Phil Kessel was left off the U.S. team and made light of that on Twitter on Tuesday night after the Americans lost to Canada.
That was a must-win game for the U.S. after opening the tournament with what Patrick Kane called a “dud” against Europe. General manager Dean Lombardi blamed not being prepared for that game for the U.S. bowing out of the World Cup.
“I don’t think we showed enough respect for the talent on that team,” Lombardi said Thursday morning.
Lombardi said that the 3-0 loss to Europe put the U.S. behind the “proverbial 8-ball” that felt like a boulder. The Los Angeles Kings GM has seen his team come back from a 3-0 playoff deficit but described the locker room after losing to Europe as tight, and the U.S. was never able to adequately respond.
“We needed to do a better job than what we did, but there’s a lot of good players in that room,” captain Joe Pavelski said. “We kind of beat ourselves a little bit.”
Getting almost skated out of the rink by Canada wasn’t entirely unexpected, but players acknowledged their recipe to move on was to beat Europe and the Czech Republic. They didn’t do either, and USA Hockey faces plenty of questions about how it will bounce back for the 2018 Olympics, if NHL players participate.
Tortorella said he had a few ideas about changes that could be made but preferred to keep those to himself. He doesn’t want USA Hockey to overreact despite a lackluster showing on a big stage.
“We’ve just got to slow ourselves down and dissect what’s happened,” he said. “It certainly isn’t good. But not to the extent as far as the chatter all around us. I think we’ve got to block out the noise, re-assess where we went and see what we can do to get us better as an organization.”
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