SOCHI, Russia – Zach Parise stopped in the mix zone sporting a look like this was the absolute last place on earth that he wanted to be.
But as the team captain that he had to face the music, and a barrage of questions. As he stood there, mentally, physical and emotional exhausted, Parise tried to find the words to convey the utter disappointment the U.S. Men’s Olympic Team felt after a hard-fought but heart-breaking, 1-0, loss to Canada in the semifinals.
This time there would be no last-second heroics, no overtime period and no golden goal from Sidney Crosby. Just a terrific hockey game with plenty of back-and-forth action played at break-neck speed.
“I think we still skated well but we just couldn’t score,” said Parise. “We had some chances but they have pretty good players, too.”
In a game what was part chess match and part track meet, it was a simple play that proved to be the difference.
Coming into the tournament much had been made of Canada’s all-star forwards, but so far they have managed only six goals, and three of them have come from Jeff Carter, who netted a hat trick against Norway.
Jamie Benn may not be a household name outside of Dallas, but his goal early in the second period, off a great pass from defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, will certainly have every American muttering his name over the weekend.
“My line was on the ice for that goal and I feel some real responsibility,” said David Backes, who is a teammate of Bouwmeester in St. Louis.
“Unfortunately we didn’t do enough to get that one back tonight.”
For every U.S. shot there were no rebounds, no bodies parked in front of the net for screens, tips or rebounds. The made the Montreal Canadiens’ goalie look like the second coming of Patrick Roy, pounding shots into his chest as if the Maple Leaf was a bull’s-eye.
“They played well but we didn’t do enough to get traffic in front of him and find second and third chances where we’ve been scoring goals all around the paint the whole tournament,” Backes said of his team’s 31-shot effort.
“We didn't do that tonight and the result was that he saw a lot of pucks and catches them and kills plays and gets faceoffs and we don’t get that sustained zone time we need to create goals and we got a goose egg tonight, and it’s tough to win when you can’t score goals.”
It wasn’t just Price who was right tonight for the Canadians. The U.S. came into the game as the highest scoring team in the tournament, but the Canadians managed to shut them down by never allowing the American thoroughbreds to gain speed through the neutral zone or their wide bodies to establish any sustained pressure on the forecheck.
“They just played good offensively, and at the same time when we got the puck in their end they just got it out right away,” said Patrick Kane, who was all over the ice trying to create any kind of chances for the U.S. “We were trying to come up with speed but they did a good job of clogging it up and playing good defense and getting the puck out of their end and going on the attack.”
Jonathan Quick was at his athletic best all night to give the U.S. every opportunity to come up with the equalizer. He finished with 36 saves, including a number of highlight reel stops.
“Our goalie was our best player on the ice tonight,” Bylsma said. “We just weren’t able to turn that back the other way and move forward with our game. There were two great teams out there and great players, and we had opportunities.”
In the end, the U.S. played a solid game, but the Canadians were just a little bit better on this night.
“It was a tough game, and they played really well and we played pretty darn good,” Backes said. “But the score will tell you not quite well enough.”