SOCHI, Russia - The U.S. Men's Olympic Team lead the tournament with 20 goals entering Friday's semifinal against Canada, but managed none against their rival to fall short of gold for the second consecutive Olympics.
Kept to the outside by a stingy Canadian defense, U.S. scorers like Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane, Dustin Brown and others couldn't best goaltender Carey Price despite launching 31 shots on goal.
"When we got the puck in their end it seemed like they were moving it out right away," said Kane. "We were trying to come up with speed but they did a good job of bottling it up."
The game's tempo was a high pace, which had led to U.S. goals earlier in the tournament, but the Candian defense closed the gap on the American attack and kept it away from prime scoring areas.
Still, head coach Dan Bylsma said he thought the chances were there.
"We had a couple chances there to draw even in this game," he said, pointing to chances by Jon Carlson, Max Pacioretty and T.J. Oshie. "On the power play we had some opportunities that we were unable to cash in on. They did a great job killing (penalties)."
The U.S. power play was particularly stymied despite three chances with the man-advantage. Canadian penalty killers clogged passing lanes that were previously open through the slot for Kane and company.
"They made a few clears and took a little time off the power play, and when we did have the chance we didn't have enough guys there," said Joe Pavelski. "We made a couple mistakes on the good looks we had. We just didn't sustain enough."
The U.S. roster features some of the elite scorers in the NHL and Pavelski said the feeling was that a goal would come.
"You always think you can score," he added. "We had a few chances and looks, it just didn't happen."
When the U.S. did break through, like James van Riemdsyk did in the second period, Price was there to make the save and, when there was a rebound, Canadian defenders cleared it away the danger.
The U.S. must go back to work to solve the power outage with less than 24 hours before facing a defensive-minded Finnish team in the bronze-medal game.
There’s a scene in the movie “Miracle” where the U.S. players leave their locker room and walk down a corridor where hundreds if not thousands of telegrams and letters are tacked on the walls from average Americans wishing them well against the Russians.
Fast forward 30 years to the eve of Sunday's gold-medal game between the United States and Canada. Those telegrams and letters have been replaced by text messages, e-mails and Internet postings from people around the United States, from average Americans and the most rabid hockey fans to players who have worn the Team USA jersey in other events.
“It’s the curse of the Blackberry. I’m getting e-mails from people that I’ve never met who are wishing me well,” said U.S. General Manager Brian Burke.
“It truly has captured a lot of attention on both sides of the border, not just in Canada.”
The gold-medal run of the underdog U.S. Team has taken both countries by storm, and will reach its apex when the puck drops Sunday at 12:15 p.m., local time at the Canada Hockey Place.
The Canadians are a formidable opponent and have an entire country behind them, and of more immediate importance, 18,000 screaming fans on their side when the puck drops.
“It means a lot to Canada but it means a lot to the U.S., too. There are a lot of people in the U.S. who love hockey, especially around Olympic time,” said Phil Kessel.
“They’re all behind us and hopefully we can make them proud.”
For U.S. players, the support of a special group of Americans gives them extra incentive to leave it all on the ice. They know that in today’s culture, words like “hero,” “field of battle” and “war” are often synonymous with sporting events.
Each member of the U.S. team carries something with them into Sunday’s game from real American heroes, who have fought in war and lost friends and a part of themselves on the field of battle.
Dating back to the Olympic orientation camp in August, players have formed lasting friendships with members of the Wounded Warriors program. They have shared their stories about their life experiences and talked about what it means to represent their country in very different forums.
“These are special people to us,” said Burke. “We’re not just playing for our dressing room, we’re playing for our wounded warriors and we’re playing from the American people, and we’ve heard from lots of them.”
Among those who have cheered on the U.S. Men’s Team on their road to the gold medal game has been their sisters-at-arms, the U.S. Women’s Team. And the men have returned the favor.
Prior to the women’s gold-medal game on Thursday, the U.S. men lined both sides of the tunnel where the women entered the ice and wished them well. And just like the Canadian men, whose faces were plastered on the Jumbotron and on national television, the U.S. men were among the largest crowd to ever watch a women’s hockey game.
“A lot of us went to the game when they beat Canada and they were at our gold-medal game,” said four-time Olympian Angela Ruggiero. “It goes back and forth. We’ve been cheering us on, we’ve been cheering them on.”
Thousands of miles away, another group of special American hockey players were glued to their television sets on both teams from afar, waiting for their turn to invade Canadian ice in hopes of winning a gold medal.
Taylor Lipsett and his wife Kathleen have been glued to their television set watching the Olympic hockey tournaments at their home in Rockwall, Texas. They plan on watching Sunday’s game at home, but Lipsett will also be texting back and forth with his teammates on the U.S. Sled Hockey Team.
For Lipsett, watching the Olympic hockey has led to a number of sleepless night, caused not by anxiety over the U.S. men’s or women’s team, but because of the anticipation of wearing the same USA jersey when he competes in the Paralympic sledge hockey tournament.
Lipsett has played in Canada before and has come back across the border victorious. Now he has a chance to clear customs with a Paralympic gold medal to go along with the bronze he won in Torino in 2006.
“The neat thing about our team is that no one puts on the jersey until we all put on the jersey together,” Lipsett said.
“Every time I put on the USA jersey, I know that I’m not only representing myself, I’m representing my family, my hometown, my country and those who have worn the jersey in other tournaments.”
That’s the pride that comes with wearing the USA jersey, and it’s what creates a special fraternity that transcends age, gender and physical ability. When one wins a gold medal, they all win a gold medal.
When the U.S. National Junior Team won gold at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship, members of the current U.S. Men's Olympic Team sent words of encouragement and congratulations. The junior team players are returning the favor on the eve of the gold medal game. Jerry D'Amigo, Jordan Schroeder, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan as well as coaches Tom Ward and Mark Osiecki have sent notes to the Olympic team.
And every one of them is hoping that Sunday is another golden day.
There’s no more golden feeling than that.