TORONTO—Phil Kessel was quick to note he wasn’t on the United States’ roster for a disappointing World Cup of Hockey.
He wasn’t the only one to point out problems with the team’s construction.
In the moments after the Americans’ 4–2 loss to Canada that eliminated them from contention, the questions cascaded: John Tortorella as coach? Too much grit? Not enough skill? What might change after another all-too-familiar early exit from an international tournament?
U.S. management doubled down on the sandpaper style that almost resulted in a gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics but hasn’t worked since. Kessel, centers Tyler Johnson and Paul Stastny, wings Kyle Okposo and Bobby Ryan and defensemen Justin Faulk, Kevin Shattenkirk and Cam Fowler were among skilled players left off the World Cup roster, generating criticism months ago and even more with the U.S. bowing out after going 0-2.
“To come here and flop like we did is extremely disappointing,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “Obviously we have to examine ourselves and what more could we have done and how can we get better for future tournaments.”
The American’s two-and-out revealed they brought too much physicality to a skill game. Canada, Russia, Team North America and others have thrived with fast-paced, entertaining hockey. Speed has been king at this international tournament.
With the aim of beating Canada, U.S. general manager Dean Lombardi built a big team with an edge to neutralize the talent of the top hockey power in the world. Instead, the World Cup showed depth of talent is everything. Leaving more skilled players at home proved detrimental.
Kessel, a Conn Smythe candidate as playoff MVP when the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup this spring, took to Twitter after the U.S. loss to make light of being not selected.
“Just sitting around the house tonight (with) my dog,” Kessel tweeted. “Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn’t put my finger on it.”
Kessel was the Americans’ leading scorer and best player at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but he was left off the initial and then final World Cup rosters. Hand surgery after the playoffs may have put his availability in doubt, but USA Hockey’s management team clearly overlooked him and others.
The U.S. opted for old-guard players like forward Brandon Dubinsky, defensemen Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson and grinder Justin Abdelkader. Tortorella, as old-school a coach as there is left, wanted to play his brand of hockey and stood by his roster construction and style.
“It’s disappointing, frustrating, all different types of emotions,” Tortorella said. “I think we let some people down. It’s on my watch. I certainly feel responsible for that.”
Patrick Kane, who did not score a goal in two games after winning the Hart Trophy as the NHL MVP last season, wouldn’t blame his coach for this failing.
“Tortorella is just one of the most passionate guys I’ve ever seen about hockey,” Kane said. “I’ll never say a bad thing about him. He’s just a great coach. We didn’t show up for him.”
Lombardi and other executives will take heat for the World Cup debacle, though it might lead to philosophical changes about how to beat Canada and win elite tournaments. It will help at future events to have players like Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Brandon Saad and Seth Jones, all of whom played on the 23-and-under Team North America and weren’t eligible for the U.S. team.
“There is definitely a fantastic future coming here,” Tortorella said. “There are some good young kids there that I think they’ll bring some juice to the program.”