Confession Time: I’m kind of obsessed with the movie Miracle.
You know the one, Disney’s sort of historical account of the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey team. I like to sleep with it on. So much so that my mom actually used to wake me up during summers I was home from college because the title screen’s music was grating on her nerves. I can’t put a figure on how many times I’ve watched scenes ranging from “Coxy, why’d you wanna play college hockey?” to “I play for, The United States of America.” But let’s put it this way… I’ve been told you cannot burn movies off of DVDs. I’ve been told this simply isn’t possible. Except… I’m on my second copy of Miracle (and third of The Breakfast Club) because I watched it until it wouldn’t play anymore. I’ve seen all the hockey greats from Score: A Hockey Musical to Youngblood but still, Miracle is it for me. And that’s what makes me so heartbroken about not just the Team USA performance in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, but every single thing about that team.
Miracle is special because it’s about a team that was selected knowing the deck was stacked against them. It’s about a group of guys who frankly hated half of the other guys on squad becoming, as Mark Johnson (he the son of Badger Bob) famously says in the film, “a family.”
If the 2016 USA World Cup of Hockey team had a movie it would be titled “Tragedy” or “Doomed”, because that’s what they were from the start. The hubris and audacity that kept the team from naming Phil Kessel, Kyle Okposo and Tyler Johnson to the roster sunk the ship before any one of the guys who did make the team ever put that jersey on.
It’s a disgrace and it’s not okay. USA Hockey had come so far. In 2010, the finally looked like they turned the corner. They finally had enough skill to be competitive with the best nations out there, to beat the Canada’s and the Russia’s on the regular. They had Patrick Kane who will likely go down as one of the greatest Americans to ever play the game. They had Phil Kessel. They had Ryan Miller. Then it all went sideways.
It started in Sochi where Dan Bylsma’s tactics that had already started to lose their power over the Pittsburgh Penguins fell flat and led to an embarrassment in a bronze medal game that by all accounts they should have won. Then, there was hope. Because from the junior and college ranks ascended players like Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Brandon Saad, John Gibson, Seth Jones and now the crown jewel in Auston Matthews. It looked like things would be okay. Kessel, Kane and Parise would give way to Eichel, Matthews and Gaudreau. Except it didn’t. It’s not that Gaudreau isn’t great, in fact one could argue the only difference between Kane and Johnny Hockey is that one’s never been allowed to get away with lying to make himself seem bigger.
Then The World Cup of Hockey format was announced. Word came down that the youngsters wouldn’t be available to Team USA because everyone from North America under 23 was going to a different team. Some people would have you believe this is where the issue began. Those people would be wrong.
Because there is a team USA that doesn’t have Eichel and Gaudreau on it that still competes. There is a team USA without Brandon Saad that can be good. But that’s not the team USA Hockey unveiled to us.
No the team they announced had Justin Adbelkader instead of Phil Kessel. Phil Kessel, who was on that silver medal team and led the Americans in scoring in Sochi wasn’t selected. Justin Abdelkader, who has only once scored 20 goals beat out Phil Kessel who has eight 20-goal-seasons and one 19-goal-season. That led to this all-time great tweet from Kessel during the game against Canada:
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
The World Cup roster wasn’t built to score. It wasn’t built to be fast. So what was it built to do? Honestly I’m not sure outside of appease its coach. A coach in John Tortorella, who hasn’t been a good NHL coach since before Sidney Crosby entered the NHL.
So yeah, team North America may have taken a few of the guys that USA would have liked to have such as Saad, Eichel and Gaudreau (Burke said he actually asked for an exception for Eichel). But Team USA left Bobby Ryan at home by their own choice. So don’t blame a team that has shown the world what hockey can be for another failing because the constructors screwed it up. That’s on Dean Lombardi and Brian Burke, not Stan Bowman and Peter Chiarelli.