Team USA has hit rock bottom, but Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere can be central to a rebooted Team USA squad
Technically, the United States are the defending champs of the World Cup of Hockey. Way back in 1996, I was lucky enough to attend the first World Cup of Hockey.
Way back then, the Philadelphia Flyers had this fancy new building called the CoreStates Center. The place seemed cavernous inside compared to the old Spectrum. The first games in this new building weren’t Flyers hockey, but saw the likes of then-current Flyers stars Eric Lindros and John LeClair going head to head in the 1996 World Cup.
After a hard-fought and memorable tournament, Team USA eked out a win over Canada. This marked a watershed moment for USA hockey, as America’s finest went toe-to-toe with fully loaded rosters from other countries, and won. When the USA ultimately took the Gold, it wasn’t a miracle, but a deserved victory.
In the 20 years since, the World Cup faded away and the NHL looked to the Olympics. In the 5 Olympics since the 1996 World Cup, the United States has won 2 silver medals, coupled with a few forgettable performances (the less said about Nagano 1998 the better).
USA hockey has not been able to get back to the top of the mountain, however, and they feel further away than ever now. Last night, Team USA lost convincingly to Canada, 4-2. With the loss, the USA was eliminated from the World Cup. This marked the first time since 1987 that the USA was eliminated in the preliminary rounds of a best-on-best tournament.
The United States is not, and never will be, the hockey hotbed Canada is. Nevertheless, the fading hopes of Team USA is frustrating as more Americans are being drafted in the first round of the NHL draft than ever before. That indicates that there is talent.
Another disappointment likes this should be the end of the road for many people involved with this version of Team USA. It’s time for a changing of the guard, and it’s clear where to start.
While Team USA has fizzled, young Team North America (U-23) has been the talk of the World Cup. No team is faster, and they often seem simply irrepressible.
Team North America is comprised of Canadians and Americans, but certainly two of the top headliners for the squad are 18-year old Auston Matthews and 19-year old Jack Eichel. These two might be the most highly-rated American hockey prospects ever. It shouldn’t be long before they make their mark on the NHL and Team USA.
Other Americans on Team North America are guys like the incomparable, Jersey-born Johnny Gaudreau, and speedsters Brandon Saad and Dylan Larkin. The defense, however, doesn’t have as much name recognition.
This is where Shayne Gostisbehere comes in. Ghost is one of three Americans on the North America blue line (Seth Jones, and Jacob Trouba are the others), but he has been perhaps the most impressive North American defender.
Ghost scored a goal in the preliminary games, and has added an assist in the two official games thus far. He’s been the top North American defender in terms of Corsi (shot attempts) differential, and is third in ice time for the team. In the game against Finland, Ghost had 8 straight shifts where he didn’t concede a single shot attempt against! Ghost could also easily have more goals if not for some close calls (jump to 13:45 of the clip below for the crazy finish to the Russia game with 2 close calls for Ghost).
This performance, coupled with Ghost’s sparkling rookie season last year with the Philadelphia Flyers, should put him in the middle of the Team USA reboot.
Moving forward, the Team USA defense would look a whole lot more dynamic with Ghost, Justin Faulk and Noah Hanifin of the Carolina Hurricanes, and Team North America teammate Seth Jones. The game is getting faster, and no one is faster and more dangerous going forward than Ghost.
Last night stings for Team USA. American and Philadelphia Flyers fans, however, can still enjoy the World Cup action to come with Team North America. And one day in the future, Ghost should be on Team USA as well.
USA hockey needs an exorcism, and who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!