CAUGHT IN THE NETS
In the wake of the United States' disappointing turn at the World Junior Championships in Vancouver, we found it puzzling to hear coach Walt Kyle tell Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail "the expectations placed on this team were false." Presumably, Kyle is suggesting the media had it all wrong when they predicted a team loaded with NHL draft picks -- including premier prospects Jack Johnson, Robbie Schremp, Jack Skille and Cory Schneider -- and players expected to go at the top of next summer's draft, Phil Kessel and Erik Johnson, should be a favorite to win gold. Sorry. Our mistake.
So, if winning gold wasn't the expectation of the coaching staff, what was? Did Kyle expect his team would tie an inferior Swiss team during the round-robin, costing it a first-round playoff bye? Did he expect Team USA would be buried by the Russians in the semifinals before losing the bronze-medal game to a Finnish team the Americans beat in the round-robin? One assumes not.
No doubt Kyle was protecting his players, and that's fine. But let's be clear: After winning a surprise gold at the prestigious tournament in 2004, the U.S. Under-20 team has failed to win a medal the last two years. Both times, the U.S. entry has underachieved based on the talent available. If that's acceptable to USA Hockey, then its stated goal of becoming an international power at the junior level won't be reached.