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US men’s hockey was all quit, no fight

– At least they didn’t break any furniture.

Yet.

Then again, the U.S. hockey team’s charter flight home isn’t scheduled to take off until today. Although their fourth-place finish Saturday night was better than the sixth they managed at the 1998 Nagano Olympics – when several players started pitching chairs and desks out of windows – there won’t be many souvenirs worth hanging onto from here, either.

The Americans’ embarrassing 5-0 loss to Finland in the bronze medal game featured plenty of quit.

Patrick Kane wound up with three penalties and two missed penalty shots – a once-in-a-career stat line – but he wasn’t the only U.S. player who was in trouble and having trouble finding the net. The Finns enjoyed a 7-3 advantage in power plays, converting the last two, but by then it hardly mattered.

The Americans were never coming back. Not with the way Finnish goalkeeper Tuukka Rask was playing.

“They played hard and taught us a real good lesson for 60 minutes,” U.S. center David Backes said.

“Yeah, we did collapse,” defenseman Ryan Suter concurred.

“Once they got those two goals, a lot of frustration set in for us,” captain Zach Parise said. “We started trying to beat guys one-on-one. We stopped playing that team game that got us to where we are.”

How the Americans even reached the bronze medal game was a tough question. The Americans scored at least five goals against all of their first four opponents, except Russia.

Then T.J. Oshie scored more goals in the shootout against those Russians than the U.S. team combined put up in its last two games.

Canada exposed them in a 1-0 semifinal, that wasn’t as close as the score. Then the Finns dominated them.

In part that’s because this was a team built not to lose. Its strong suit, maybe its only suit, was defense.

And once it fell behind opponents such as Canada and Finland, whose defenses were just as organized and whose goalies were just as tough-minded, the U.S. had too little firepower and no idea how to come back.

U.S. coach Dan Bylsma said his team had invested too much emotion in what he called the “showdown” against Canada. It was the return match to the gold medal final in Vancouver four years ago, what might have been the best hockey game ever, and when his team wound up on the short end again, Bylsma said he simply underestimated how much else – motivation, passion, professionalism – the Americans had left.

“That’s just not going to go away,” Bylsma said about how that loss hung over his squad. “It’s not going to go away with the opportunity we had today.”

Well, the Finns got over losing to their greatest rival, Sweden, over roughly the same span. And hockey guys rarely give anything short of an honest effort.

Owning up to that might have been the toughest stance the Americans took all night.

“I don’t know if we were tired, but it shouldn’t matter. There is something on the line,” Parise said finally, “and we just didn’t show up.”

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. His columns appear periodicallt in The Journal Gazette.

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