National pride was on the line tonight as both Team USA and Team Czech Republic have had very disappointing results at the tournament and were looking for some redemption.
Normally, I would be less than thrilled about covering such a meaningless game, but with all the drama surrounding Team USA, this game actually had some interesting plot lines.
Can Team Czech Republic go out on a high note and get the moral victory?
Would Team USA show the world that their disastrous play at the World Cup of Hockey doesn’t mean that USA Hockey is on its last leg?
Ben Bishop got the nod for Team USA with Cory Schneider backing him up. Our own Petr Mrazek was in net for the Czechs. I wasn’t sure what to expect in this game since both teams have been low on goal scoring – each has scored only two goals in the tournament.
The Americans started off the first period really well – which was a pleasant surprise since I’m sure they’re quite frustrated with their performance. Team USA spent a lot of time in the offensive zone right off the bat. Both teams were itching to get offense going and we saw a lot of aggressive pinches early on.
Both teams had some good chances, but failed to capitalize early on. Team USA got the second penalty of the period and the dangles between Parise, Oshie, Kane and Pavelski were insane. Their passes were insanely good but not good enough to get them on the board. At this point, Team USA is 0/8 on the PP this tournament.
At 7:15, Michalek – no, the other Michalek (Zbynek) scored with a hard slap shot and a lot of assistance from a Hanzal screen on Bishop. The American fans at the ACC didn’t take long to start chanting “Let’s go Kessel!” A nod to the controversy surrounding Phil Kessel being left off the Team USA roster.
The ACC is starting to cheer "Let's Go Kessel" | Phil The Thrill— The Hockey Press® (@TheHockeyPress) September 23, 2016
Via @AndyCole84 #WCH2016 #TeamUSApic.twitter.com/T7d3KHMedr
Shortly after, Abby got a stick to the face from the butt end of Mrazek’s stick – nothing like some love from your teammate! Mrazek received a penalty for his actions – his second consecutive penalty.
Team USA didn’t take look to make the Czechs pay. Pavelski took advantage of some incredible tic-tac-toe between Kane, Oshie and Parise to score with a one-timer close to the net. Team USA now 1/9 on the PP!
#WCH2016— ana pau maupome (@anapaum) September 23, 2016
End of the 1st #TeamUSA 1-1 #TeamCze pic.twitter.com/AVXoNfRYYf
Both teams picked up right where they left off with big plays and quick passes. I think both teams were a little over zealous to make something happen and it resulted in some of their plays being sloppy. Both teams were playing much looser defensively in general, resulting in plenty of odd-man and end-to-end rushes.
At 13:57 there was a huge scrum in the front, knocking down Bishop and resulting in an own-goal by Suter, which was awarded to Milan Michalek. Own-goals are pretty much the worst, but given the fragile state of Team USA, I imagine that this was a kick in the groin.
The Americans didn’t have much time to sulk however as they were on the PP within seconds thanks to a penalty by Hemsky.
The Czechs’ PK strategy was pretty simple: fall in in front of Mrazek – maybe the Wings should try it? Team USA came very close to scoring on a Parise tip from Pavelski, but unfortunately it rattled the post and stayed out.
More than halfway through the period, the Czechs started to roll and put the Americans on their heels a little bit. The Czechs were taking advantage of Team USA’s sloppy plays and Byfuglien’s leisurely skating almost cost them a goal.
Shortly after, Byfuglien redeemed himself by setting up Abby for a quick goal. And just like that it’s 2-2! They’ve already matched their goal total for the tournament – everyone take a drink!
2-2. @justinabss. #WCH2016 pic.twitter.com/tdEP2Dl3cC— #WCH2016 (@NHL) September 23, 2016
At 3:10 the Czechs got their third lead of the game from an awkward sharp angle shot from Sustr. Based on their reactions, neither Sustr or Bishop could really understand how the puck found the back of the net.
Thirty-nine seconds later, Roman Polak took advantage of poor defensive coverage by Team USA and sent one over Bishop’s glove to make it 4-1. Upon a closer look, the goal was awarded to Milan Michalek, giving him 2 goals in the game.
Before the third period Abdelkader gave a brief interview to Sportsnet where he credited Mike Babcock for his development as a player and for trusting him to play with superstars like Pavel and Hank.
Team USA decided to switch things up in net and start Cory Schneider and his sick pads for the third period instead.
Cory Schneider (and these glorious pads) takes over in net for Team @usahockey in their #WCH2016 matchup with Czech! pic.twitter.com/C2TPy53bkZ— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) September 23, 2016
Parise got called for hooking early in the period, giving the Czechs another opportunity to run away with this game.
Early into the PP, Dubinsky took advantage of a bad change by the Czechs and McDonaugh capitalized, giving the US a short-handed goal and bringing them within a goal.
Halfway through the period, the players began to get more frustrated and testy. Jordan and Pacioretty mixed it up a little bit after a whistle in the Czechs’ zone. Byfuglien got involved as well and there was a little scrum to the delight of the crowd at the ACC.
At the 2:11 mark, Team USA headed to the power play and threw everything at Mrazek who was able to stand tall and keep his position despite the scrums in front of him.
With less than 2 minutes left, Team USA pulled Schneider in favour of putting a 7th skater on the ice. The Milan Michalek hat trick watch is on!
Team USA gave it one more hard push, but couldn’t find the back of the net. Byfuglien couldn’t let this meaningless game go and went after Jordan at the end of the period, resulting in a big pile up of people. Not sure what the point of that was, but hey, whatever!
To sum up, Team USA had a very poor showing at this tournament and has endured a lot of criticism – albeit, deserved criticism. It’s unfortunate and telling that they didn’t have lead at all during this game. Did they have a lead during this tournament? [Ed note: yes, they scored the first goal against Canada, hilariously enough]
But, I must say that I am not down on USA Hockey whatsoever. Team North America had more Americans than Canadians. If those kids had a chance to integrate with the veterans on Team USA then this tournament might have gone quite differently.
We are entering an interesting phase in hockey where for the first time, the draft isn’t being dominated by Canadians entirely. I really think there’s great hockey to be played for Team USA.