Saturday, September 24, 2016
After all those good vibes, Team North America blew it
All that amazing hockey. All that excitment. All the feels. For naught? Well, no, not exactly, because anybody who watched Team North America play at this year's World Cup of Hockey knows that the team was a revolution unto itself, and who knows, when we look back at this moment in hockey time, it may end up being a seminal moment for the sport. A time when speed, creativity and tempo finally smashed out the conservativism that has been a huge anchor weighing down hockey since the beginning of the slogan "dump and chase." But it could have been so much better. Don't get me wrong, it was great. It was a spine tingler. The hair is still standing on the back of many a hockey fan's neck, but there is one thing that doesn't sit right. The coaching staff blew it. That's right, they did. First off, before I lay into them let me just say that Todd McLellan and his staff deserve major kudos for embracing and cultivating Team North America's identity. They let the kids play and set them free of the chains that bind. It was perfect, intuitive coaching -- letting these young talents play like they had nothing to lose (which they didn't) and letting them use their speed and creativity to put vaunted defensive juggernauts like Sweden and Finland on their heels. That was all good. What wasn't all good was the way that the TNA coaching staff elected to keep the kids in the dark with regard to semifinal qualification scenarios. After Nathan MacKinnon's overtime goal the Canadian shocked many hockey fans by telling the media that he thought the team had qualified. “When I scored, I thought we were in,” said MacKinnon, who scored the game-winner. “Maybe we shouldn’t have celly’d that hard.” The sad reality was--they had not. And this is where Team North America's coaches made their one fatal mistake. Their decision not go for broke and pull the goalie in an attempt to win the game in regulation (which would have automatically qualified them for the semis) was the one bad decision in a tournament full of brilliant ones. The decision not to go for the win in regulation undermined the integrity of the go-for-broke ethos that Team North America had embraced from the very first puck drop in this competition. If there was ever a team that was built to seize the moment and take the bull by the horns, this was it. If there was ever a team that was built to take a head-scratching gamble and risk it all to put a death dagger into the heart of Sweden while an arena full of punch drunk hockey fans went berserk, THIS WAS IT! And now, as the hockey world prepares to watch a semifinal lineup that does not feature the most captivating lineup and the most endearing story of the tournament, we are left to contemplate this: Why did the team that was all about going for it not go for it when it really mattered? Was 4:07 of the best 3-on-3 overtime a good enough consolation prize for those who would have preferred another 60 minutes and maybe more of this revolutionary brand of hockey? Probably. Does it really matter if they made the semis or not in the end? Maybe not. But make no mistake about it. Team North America could have blown the roof off the Air Canada Center with an empty-net goal against Sweden. It would have been an even more remarkable, ballsier ending then we saw in the OT (which also blew the roof). But for whatever reason its players didn't even know that it would have mattered. Whether we blame the coaching staff for not informing the players, or the players for not taking the initiative and figuring it out, it's kind of a bummer that the ballsiest team in World Cup of Hockey history didn't have quite enough balls to do the unthinkable.