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U.S. Veterans Ponder Their Last Kick At The Can

By Harry Thompson - Editor, USA Hockey Magazine, 09/22/16, 7:00AM EDT

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Team USA regulars hoping for another chance in country's colors

TORONTO -- The words were hard to come by. USA Hockey has always been an integral part of Ryan Suter's life, from the time he was a little boy in Madison, Wis., listening to stories of his father, Bob, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team and the "Miracle on Ice."

He watched his uncle Gary help the U.S. win the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996, and went to play at the National Team Development Program and represent his country in two Olympics.

And while he still has a lot of miles on the tires, the 31-year-old Suter could only wonder if this year's World Cup of Hockey would be his last kick at the can in international competition. If so, a quick and disappointing exit from this year's tournament was not the way he wants it all to end.

But there he was, sitting at the podium following Tuesday night's heartbreaking, 4-2 loss to Team Canada, surrounded by cameras and microphones openly and honestly answering every question just as he's done so many times in the past.

"As you get older in your career you don't know how many more chances you're going to get at something like this," said Suter, his voice barely heard over the din of the room. "It's extremely disappointing."

With a dozen players at or quickly approaching the threshold of 30, the question popped up more than once if this was the last hurrah for a nucleus that came within an overtime goal of capturing Olympic in Vancouver.

"Whenever you represent your country in a tournament like this, it could be your last time so you cherish every moment and make sure it counts," said Jack Johnson, who has played in more international games than any player on the team. "That's why this means a lot to our group because for a lot of us it could be the last time."

Long before the tournament began, even before the team met in Columbus, Ohio, for a weeklong camp, there were those who questioned the makeup of this team. From the omission of several particular players to the inclusion of several others, there was no shortage of second guessers around the hockey world. The only people who believed in this team were the 23 players and coaching staff wearing the USA crest.

"There's a lot of pride in that room. I have a lot of respect for those guys," said team captain Joe Pavelski. "Everyone who was here deserved to be here. Obviously USA Hockey has come up. There's been a lot of talent and there are decisions to be made. That's the way they went and that's the way this group has been put together."

The criticism is part and parcel with being a hockey superpower. Anything less than a gold medal or a championship trophy is unacceptable, both inside the locker room and among the legion of loyal USA Hockey followers.

"You guys can beat up the roster all you want, but if you look at our roster and there are some pretty good skilled players," head coach John Tortorella said. "We just didn't do enough offensively and we self-inflicted quite a bit in two games. We gave up some easy goals. And you just can't do that in a short tournament."

There's an old adage in sports that players play and managers manage. Despite the results, veterans like the makeup of this squad and defend the process of putting it together.

"Hindsight is a beautiful thing for the pundits. You get to second guess everybody, but I think in their heart of hearts that this is the way that we could win the tournament. I'm 100 percent behind that," said forward David Backes.

"The fact is that players didn't execute on the ice. I don't know that criticism is going to be spread throughout the team, but I'll take my fair share and everyone else will as well. We didn't get the job done."

If there is a silver lining, it's the belief that reinforcements are definitely on the way in the presence of talented young American stars who are making waves here this week as members of Team North America. With rising stars like Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel and Shayne Gostisbehere quickly coming into their own, the excitement surrounding the next generation is very palpable.

"I think there is definitely a fantastic future coming that way, not only for the USA but for Canada also," Tortorella said. "There are some good young kids there that I think they'll bring some juice to the program. You can see that in the way they've play here. I'm anxious to see them play the rest of the tournament."

But there remains one more game to be played on Thursday against the Czech Republic, and players say there will be no problem putting aside their disappoint as they play for themselves, their teammates and their country.

"Regardless of the fact that we can't move, on we want to end on a great note and have fun in the game," Zach Parise said. "We want to take pride in the fact that we're here and represent our country well."

World Cup News

Team USA Schedule & Results

Date Opponent/Event Location Result
Fri, Sept. 9 Canada (Pre-Tourn.) Columbus, OH (Nationwide) W, 4-2
Sat., Sept. 10 Canada (Pre-Tourn.) Ottawa, Ont. L, 2-5
Tues., Sept. 13 Finland (Pre-Tourn.) Washington, D.C. (Verizon) W, 3-2
Sat., Sept. 17 Team Europe Toronto (ACC) L, 0-3
Tues., Sept. 20 Canada Toronto (ACC) L, 2-4
Thurs., Sept. 22 Czech Republic Toronto (ACC) L, 3-4

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