USA hockey outmatched by Russians

United States Olympic team faces win or go home situation

After a heated exchange with opposing coaches, he and his staff decided handshakes could wait for a later time as they escaped through the tunnel.

USA head coach Tony Granato was puzzled by his counterpart Oleg Znarok’s decision to send star player Ilya Kovalchuk back out on the man-advantage with little time remaining in a 4-0 win for the Olympic Athletes of Russia (OAR).

The move came after a number of heated exchanges between Kovalchuk and USA forward Jordan Greenway. Granato responded by sending out his young forward who just turned 21 to line up with the former National Hockey League (NHL) All-Star on the ensuing faceoff.

If you couldn’t guess yourself, the unrest between the two countries has translated to the ice.

The heavily favored Russian team did little to give any hope to an American squad made up of college kids, minor leaguers, European professionals like former Bulldog Chad Billins, and retired NHL players. With the win, OAR clinched Group B, while earning a spot in the quarterfinals.

The United States dropped into third, behind Slovenia, a team that upset USA Wednesday in a 3-2 come from behind overtime victory. With the loss, USA is forced to play Tuesday, Feb. 20, in the Qualification round where they will try and win their way to the quarterfinals.

In the absence of current NHL players, the Olympics have provided flashbacks to years like 1980. A USA group clearly overwhelmed by a far superior team from Russia. Many don’t remember that just days before the ‘miracle on ice’, the USA was dominated by the Soviet Union in a 10-3 game at Madison Square Garden.

Though this team from Russia has shown it’s capable of losing with a defeat at the hands of Slovakia on Wednesday, they are showcasing a tenacity that we have not seen from a Russian team since players like Boris Mikhailov, Valeri Kharlamov, and Vladislav Tretiak patrolled the ice for the Soviet Union.

That moment in 1980 will never be recreated again. It will go down as arguably the best display of teamwork in sporting history. But this American group will need to look to that 1980 gold-medal team for hope as they are clearly outmatched by OAR.

Though the score was only 4-0 and USA was able to get 29 pucks on OAR goaltender Vasili Koshechkin, the men in red controlled the game in every aspect. The United States were outmatched in the faceoff circle, outworked in the corners, and outhustled in open ice. Not to mention that any time an American player got close to Koschechkin, they were firmly dealt with by a convoy of Russian players.

On the other side of things, OAR looked to scored at will in a game where the score was dishonest. The 6-7, 231-pound Koschechkin looked taller than any shot from a USA stick, and there was little players like Ryan Donato and Brian Gionta could do about that.

It appears as if OAR is the team to beat, and though they are beatable, it won’t be easy. If this USA team wants a chance at redemption, they will have to find a way to work their way into a rematch with the big bad bear from Russia.

For now, all they can do is wait and see who they are playing on Tuesday in a win or go home game.

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