TORONTO – How do you find motivation when your only reason for hanging around this city melted in a pool of sweat and tears and side-eyed tweets 48 hours ago?
How do you pick yourself up from the crushing letdown when everyone involved—fans, players, management, coaches, pundits—is still picking apart the carcass of your game plan, your hope?
You watch film on your opponent and muck around during the morning skate, but really, what’s the point?
“This morning… it’s hard. Yesterday it was definitely hard,” T.J. Oshie said prior to Team USA’s 4-3 defeat to the Czech Republic. “You can kind of tell in practice out there everyone’s disappointed, which we should be. But we’ve got to be focused here and try to get a win.”
The World Cup round-robin schedule called for a hockey game between 0-and-2 Team USA and 0-and-2 Team Czech Republic Thursday night at Air Canada Centre, and the game must go on, even in a half-full barn.
All that was on the line for the U.S.-Czech Pride Bowl was ducking embarrassment.
For the much-ripped U.S. squad, the players needed a better denouement at the World Cup than they gave at Sochi’s bronze medal game. Still discombobulated from losing 1-0 to Canada in the 2014 Olympic semifinals, Team USA phoned in a 5-0 gimme to Finland and flew home medal-free.
“To come so close in Vancouver, to beat Canada early in the tournament, and then lose to Canada in overtime in the 2010 Olympics, and then to go to Sochi and play, it wasn’t really the style that we wanted to play,” defenceman Ryan Suter said.
“We had a chance to win a bronze medal there, and we didn’t. And then to come here, and flop like we did is extremely disappointing.”
Thirteen members of this seventh-place 2016 national team were involved in that fourth-place finish whimper two years ago.
“There was a lot to play for in that game. We came out pretty good there, if I remember. We had some breakaways, had some chances, didn’t score, and that game got away from us [and] fell apart,” captain Joe Pavelski said. “But playing for a bronze medal and playing this last game tonight—those two don’t compare.”
Surely not when it comes to parting gifts, but what about the emotional tax of putting on the foil one more time when your main objective is already out of reach? Is that similar?
“You could say that. We’ve got a lot of guys here from that Olympic team, so hopefully we learned our lesson,” Oshie said this morning.
“We just can’t and don’t want to go home 0-and-3. Not that the game means a whole much, but for us personally, for the feeling in that locker room, it’s our duty to go out and show how we should be playing.”
They played hard to the buzzer, tied up two Czech leads, outshot and outhit them, and still lost, again.
The last time the country’s senior men went 0-fer was at the 1982 IIHF World Championship, where they went 0-6-1 and got relegated to the B Pool for 1983.
This was a new low, though: In 13 best-on-best tourneys, the United States had never been sent home winless until now.
Pavelski, who scored the first U.S. goal Thursday, says he regrets that bronze medal defeat. Zach Parise, who captained that ’14 outfit, certainly does.
In Sochi, there was no shame in losing to what may go down as the most dominant Canadian hockey team ever assembled. But posting a day-old doughnut to a beatable Finnish squad was another story.
“Looking back, all of us probably really regretted what happened that game. You ask yourself, ‘Could we have played harder with the bronze medal on the line?’” Parise, 32, said.
“Even with the disappointment of the night before, it’s a learning thing. I know nothing’s on the line [tonight], but you still play with a lot of pride.”
Suter, 31, talked about getting older, about using up all his chances. Tonight, he accidentally scored a goal on his own net. David Backes, 32, admitted his spot on this roster would’ve been in jeopardy had Team North America not snatched up the Johnny Gaudreaus of the game. He was scratched.
Ben Bishop let in a softie and got pulled.
“For some of us, it’s possibly the last World Cup. It’s frustrating, but we [had] a chance to go out there tonight and at least prove to ourselves how we should’ve been playing the whole time,” said Oshie, 29.
“You guys can say all you want, but within the room we know how we could’ve played, how we should’ve played and are regretting how we did play.
“We’ve been picking each other up,” Oshie went on. “We’re all disappointed, but we’re still sticking together.”
There’s a saying about misery and company.
“We talked about a step back in Sochi, the way we finished there, and this is about as low as it can get,” Ryan McDonagh said. “If this is my last, it’s not the way I would like to go out.”