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Team USA

Team USA players accept blame for winless World Cup

Coach John Tortorella says team had chances, just couldn't finish

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Team USA's World Cup of Hockey 2016 burned to the ground in six short days, losers of all three games in the preliminary round.

Even after losing 4-3 to Team Czech Republic and hearing some boos as it skated off the Air Canada Centre ice Thursday, there were no recriminations or finger-pointing from Team USA about its 0-3-0 record.

"I think this team has been kind of characterized as just a team full of plumbers and grinders," coach John Tortorella said. "I don't agree with that. We have some really good offensive people. I think we have a really good mix. Some of our offensive guys, not all, had some great chances, and we just couldn't finish. That's the way it's gone for us.

"Everybody just seems to keep on circling around that this isn't the type of team to play in this type of tournament. We have some good offensive people on this club."

Tortorella said he felt Patrick Kane and Derek Stepan formed a good combination and were two of his better players against Team Czech Republic, but each finished the World Cup without scoring a goal.

Whatever the criticism of the team, whether of the roster, the skill level or the leadership, Tortorella steadfastly took the opposite view.

"I'll take the hits," he said. "I like the team. I liked how they were before the game. I liked them on the bench tonight. But bottom line is we leave here with nothing. And so certainly we can't be happy about that. In a tournament like this, I think you have to be really careful not to lose your mind as far as what's going on with some of the guys. It's a different type of tournament.

"As far as the organization, we just have to slow ourselves down and dissect what's happened, and it certainly isn't good. But not to the extent as far as the chatter all around us. We've got to block out the noise, reassess where we went and see what we can do to get us better as an organization."

Forward Justin Abdelkader, who along with Joe Pavelski and Ryan McDonagh scored Team USA's goals Thursday, was a staunch defender of Tortorella and his methods.

"I think we're in between how we wanted to play," Abdelkader said. "We wanted to be a little aggressive, but I think we didn't always cover our D-men when they pinched and gave teams some easy outs. That's on the players. I think coaches preached that all tournament and all pretournament to get us ready; there should be no blame for those guys. Those guys did a great job, it's on the players.

"The players, we either make the coaches look good or, in the case of this tournament, obviously the blame's going on [Tortorella]. There should be no blame on him. He did a great job of getting us ready. He's a great motivator, he's a coach that really is passionate, and it comes out each and every time he speaks. It comes down to the players not executing and not playing the way our team needs to play to be successful."

On the question of its leadership after losses to Team Europe, Team Canada and Team Czech Republic, Team USA forward Blake Wheeler said critics are looking in the wrong place.

"Not only [Pavelski] but our entire leadership group were outstanding," Wheeler said. "They're great people, incredible hockey players, and I'd be proud to play on a team with any of them.

"When you don't get results, especially with a lot of eyeballs on you, you're going to leave yourself open to criticism. That's part of it. If we're sitting here 3-0, we've probably got a lot of people tooting our horn right now. That's what you sign up for, and going into it, you realize it. We're all adults here and we can handle it."

Wheeler said that Team USA's 3-0 loss to Team Europe in its first game Saturday was a big factor in its poor showing in Toronto.

"You fall behind early in this tournament and before you know it you're 0-3 and packing your bags," Wheeler said. "It's just that I think the first game was the killer and we could just never really recover."

Wheeler said he couldn't dissect the lack of success so soon after Team USA's final game.

"I just stepped off the ice 20 minutes ago," he said. "It's tough to really understand. I think that first game was all of a sudden 3-0 and you're kind of caught flat-footed a little bit, and before you know it, the tournament's at your feet having to play Team Canada in Toronto.

"So you put yourself in a really tough spot, and we just weren't able to recover from it. You can sit here and make any excuses you want and blame the bounces, blame the hockey gods, but we didn't get anything to go our way, and that's part of the game."

Pavelski scored Team USA's only power-play goal of the tournament in the first period Thursday -- it had five goals in three games -- and said he refuses to buy into the view that USA Hockey is in shambles.

"I don't think whether the kids are coming up or not, USA Hockey is still strong and it's still coming," Pavelski said. "We need to do a better job than we did. There's a lot of good players in that room, and it's a couple of bounces, if we're a little bit sharper early on … and a little bit of structure at times. We just weren't patient enough. We'd get it going, and then all of a sudden we'd want to open it up and kind of beat ourselves a little bit."

He said the future was not something he wanted to discuss after the game.

"It's not any fun," he said. "It's still too far (away) to tell whether some guys will be back. We'll see and go from there. It's not worth looking at right now. All the emotions are pretty raw, and we'll try to take what we can from this and make ourselves better players."

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