It was the most anticipated match of the tournament. Aired in a prime time slot, it had the makings of yet another classic matchup between Team Canada and Team U.S.A. When the dust settled, Canada found itself with a 4-2 win and eliminated their neighbors to the south in the process.
It could have been a tight, exciting and memorable matchup. Instead, it was the coaching that turned this game into a one-sided affair.
When Ryan McDonagh scored early in the game, it appeared that Canada was letting up against the Americans, especially considering Carey Price’s international shutout streak that came to an end in the process. Canada’s head coach, Mike Babcock made sure to keep his team looking composed and focused on the goal at hand. His coaching appeared to work, as Canada went on to respond to McDonagh’s goal,with 2 quick strikes from Matt Duchene and Corey Perry, to rally up 2 goals in 14 seconds.
Babcock once again found a way to lead his squad, which has always been his secret to helping Canada reach success at the international level year after year. His coaching methods are the main reason why Canada was able to gain control of the match early, while also playing in sync until the final buzzer.
It takes a coach like Babcock to be able to do a fantastic job of handling a team full of superstar talent; helping them play to their strengths while not allowing them to think an automatic win lies ahead. Even though he knows his team is very capable of winning the tournament with ease, Babcock has continuously said that he always focuses on what could have been better, and improving for the next game.
For instance, following Canada’s 6-0 blowout against the Czech Republic, Babcock told the media that the message to his team is simple: “Live scared and get better.” Even following the win over the Americans, he was displeased with the fact that his squad was tentative in the opening minutes of the game.
John Tortorella: "I think we let some people down. It’s on my watch. I certainly feel responsible for that. it’s really disappointing".
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) September 21, 2016
The U.S., by contrast, will have to revise after playing a game where nothing seemed to go their way, especially coming to John Tortorella’s coaching decisions.
Starting Jonathan Quick for this key game instead of either Corey Schneider or Ben Bishop was ill-wise because of his shaky performance against Europe, in which he allowed 3 goals on 17 shots against. Early in the game against Canada, he was also not himself, allowing 3 goals in the first 12 minutes of the game to put his team in an early hole that would grow deeper as time went on.
When Corey Perry scored to give Canada a 2-1 lead, Tortorella tried to challenge the play on the basis that Quick interfered on the play. With video evidence suggesting otherwise, the call stood and Tortorella had wasted his timeout way too early in the game.
While Quick was able to settle down from the 2nd period on, his teammates did not seem to have any fight in them to try and close the gap. For a majority of the game, the Americans appeared to be just going through the motions and accepting defeat as Canada prevented access to the offensive zone. In a particular exchange between Tortorella and forward Max Pacioretty, there was proof that the U.S was not connecting with their head coach, which had an impact on their playing style throughout.
The Americans finally showed signs of life late in the 3rd period when T.J. Oshie brought his team within 2. But it was a simple case of too-little-too-late, as they could not recover from the 14-second barrage of goals from Canada earlier in the game.
For much of the tournament, the Americans, especially Tortorella, emphasized on grit as the way to take down the powerhouse Canadians. Unfortunately, It didn’t work. Prior to the game, Tortorella stated that this matchup against their hockey rivals was their Championship game. Instead, they lost in convincing fashion.
The most crushing blow for the Americans didn’t come from their on-ice performance but from social media. Phil Kessel, one of the highest scoring snipers in the NHL for the past several years and an integral part of the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup win, was controversially left off the World Cup roster for unknown reasons. Shortly after the game ended, he set the internet ablaze when he roasted his national team with this tweet:
Just sitting around the house tonight w my dog. Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn't put my finger on it.
— Phil Kessel (@PKessel81) September 21, 2016
Simply put, the United States system that focused on “grit” did not work out, and they’ll need to make some serious adjustments to their thinking if they want to reclaim the glory of their 1996 World Cup of Hockey victory over Canada.
Team Canada now has a 2-0-0 record, but won’t get much time to rest as they will look to secure 1st place in Group A when they face Team Europe of Wednesday, with the start time at 8:00 p.m. EST. Team U.S.A will get a few days of rest before looking to avoid a 0-3-0 finish when they take on the Czech Republic on Thursday with the puck dropping at 8:00 p.m. EST.
You can follow Michael Mazzei on Twitter @MichaelMazzei3.