Commentary

Burke 'not happy' with Team USA's play

Updated: February 22, 2010, 10:43 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- If you were expecting cartwheels and fist pumps and maybe a happy Irish jig from U.S. GM Brian Burke after his plucky American squad upended Canada and finished on top of the preliminary pool, you would have been sadly disappointed.

In fact, disappointed pretty much describes how Burke feels as his team awaits its quarterfinal date Wednesday.

"You guys are probably going to be shocked by this; I'm not happy with the way we've played to this point," Burke told reporters Monday, an off day for the men's tournament, which moves into elimination mode with four qualifying games Tuesday and four quarterfinal contests Wednesday.

Brian Burke
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesGM Brian Burke said Monday that Team USA needs "significantly" better play if it wants to reach the medal round.

The Americans will play the winner of the Belarus-Switzerland tilt Tuesday by virtue of being the top seed in the 12-team elimination tournament.

But Burke cautioned that his team has to be significantly better if it hopes to take advantage of its seeding and earn a medal.

"If that's how we play, we're going to have a hard time getting to where we want to get here and medaling," Burke said. "We have to play significantly better. We need all hands on deck. We're playing with about 10 guys carrying us, in my opinion. I'm not happy with the way we've played. I'm not unhappy because we're in the first seed, and thank god there are some guys pulling on the rope, but we need everyone pulling on the rope."

The Americans were, in many ways, fortunate to have defeated a deeper, more talented Canadian team; they were outshot 45-23, including 19-6 in the first period and 14-4 in the third period.

"You didn't see Canada's best game last night," Burke warned. "You didn't see Sweden's best game last night. Everything gets ratcheted up now. We've got to ratchet it up, too, or all this goes for naught. They don't hand out any medals for finishing first in the preliminary round."

Specifically, Burke said the Americans must try to cut down on the turnovers and their sloppy play.

"Our center ice play, we've made some glaring turnovers that have resulted in scoring chances. And overall intensity for 60 minutes. I thought the first 10 minutes of the second period last night we were nonexistent," Burke said. "And then I thought we cranked it up and fortunately some guys took the game over."

The GM singled out praise for players such as Jack Johnson, netminder Ryan Miller and Brian Rafalski, who had two goals and an assist in Sunday's win over Canada.

"Brian Rafalski might have played the best game of his life last night," Burke said. "But we had a bunch of guys that did not perform to the level we're going to need if we want to have success. No one's taking any bows now. I am not pleased with how we've played to this point. It's nice we've gotten to this position, but if we don't crank it up, this all goes for nothing."

As for Miller, Burke simply said Miller was picked for the team because he can deliver the kinds of performances he showed Sunday, especially late in the game when it seemed the Canadians never left the American zone.

"That's why Ryan Miller, in my opinion, has been the best goaltender in the NHL this year so far, and that's why we brought him," Burke said.

U.S. forward Chris Drury agreed the team is in no position to rest on its laurels.

"Clearly as this tournament goes on, you do want to get better in every single game, and I think looking after that first two games, maybe not last night, there were some odd-man rushes that you won't get away with later in the tournament as we did in the first two games," Drury said. "Defensively, I think every team is always looking to be better in our own end."

So, has any of this changed the view of the Americans being anything but underdogs here in Vancouver?

"I would still say we are the underdogs because of our lack of experience," Drury said. "Now the tournament takes on a whole new meaning with single-elimination. As Burkie said, we have to get better."

As for Burke, he said he would make his feelings clear to the team in no uncertain terms before the quarterfinals Wednesday.

"I'll see to it by tomorrow that they understand firsthand how I feel about it," he said Monday.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.