The United States won their relegation round games against Latvia and Switzerland to become WORLD CHAMPIONS of teams not in the top six in the world, which, all told, is pretty unimpressive when there's only like four or five countries that play hockey well. In any case, now we may never speak of it again. Except for this post.
My thoughts, bulleted, with very poor organization:
-How amazing were the last three medal round games? Finland almost snuck past Sweden thanks to a great goaltending performance by Sami Aittokallio, but ended up losing in the shootout, Russia held on for a crazy 6-5 win over Canada, and Sweden won their first gold medal in 31 years with a 1-0 overtime victory. Those were three fantastic games that really made me wish the US had chosen to participate in this year's tournament.
-The results of this year's tournament dictate that next year, the US will be in a group with both Canada and Russia, who is hosting the tournament. Ufa, indeed. It's way too early, but I could see the winner of that group playing their best hockey a little too early and ending up faltering in the medal round There won't be the same home ice advantage with the tournament finally back in Europe, but traveling to Russia always presents its own unique challenges. Germany and Slovakia round out the pool, which is a little more favorable for the US in terms of advancing out of the group.
-On that Canada-Russia game, I think that was pretty close to the perfect result. The Canadian players, many of whom I genuinely like, go out with no shame in an extremely honorable comeback effort, while it's still a crushing loss for their legions of dickbag fans.
-While on that topic, we may as well go over the thought I, and every other American hockey fan had: 'Wait, why are we cheering for Russia?" Is it because deep down, Canadian hockey fans are just truly that terrible? Almost certainly so. The lingering effects of any Cold War politics have pretty much worn off. This was the first Russian World Junior team in which no player had ever been a Soviet--not that any players from last year's team were infected by a few months of baby communism, but it is a reminder of just how long it has been. And on the ice, I'm hard-pressed to recall the specifics of any US-Russia game in recent history. Off the top of my head, all I could come up with was the U17 fight in Russia four years, the gold medal winning game at the U18 championships in Fargo, and Alex Ovechkin torching the US in the Grand Forks World Juniors. I'm sure some of the Russian antics will start to wear a little thin in the future, but for the most part, there just hasn't been the rivalry between the US and Russia in international play like there has been with Canada.
-I will also say this about the Russians: I don't know has caused such a fundamental change in their international teams, but there definitely seems to be one. Just two years ago, after the Saskatoon tournament, we were talking about major problems in their system after their team gave a very poor showing, and basically quit by the end of the tournament. Now, there's been an almost 180-degree turn in terms of national pride for the Russians. Maybe it was last year's gold medal, maybe it was the emergence of the KHL, maybe it was the Lokomotiv tragedy, maybe they just went through a couple down years with no elite players. Whatever the case, that dedication to their country bodes well for their long-term success.
-Among the rare positives I can come up with for the US team, I have to say how impressed I was with the way that Jack Campbell handled himself in a very difficult situation, even if he didn't have his best tournament on the ice. I've been critical of some of the dumb things Campbell has said, but still take pride in a kid like that playing for the US.
-In the wake of the US team's disappointment, there's been the usual chatter about how the US should have taken more CHL players. There are only two situations in which that is a valid argument. 1. If the US did not take any players from the CHL. This was not the case. 2. If the CHL players selected for this team were the team's standout players. This was not the case. If that was the performance the US got out of the best the CHL had to offer them, I highly doubt the rest would have been much better. Certainly there's the argument that adding a Shane Prince or Jared Knight would have made the team better because how could it have been worse? But that argument could be applied equally to any number of college players not selected for the tournament.
-Next week we'll take a look at the players that could end up making the roster to go to Ufa, Russia next year.