Bob Smizik: Hockey disgrace shouldn’t be pinned on Bylsma

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While the American media blistered the U.S. Olympics hockey team in general for its disgraceful performance in the bronze medal game against Finland yesterday at Sochi, some of the Pittsburgh fan base specifically went after -- who else? -- the coach.

As though it were the fault of coach Dan Bylsma that the U.S. did not score a goal in its final two games.

One talk-show caller complained that Bylsma, also the coach of the Penguins, didn’t pull goalie Jonathan Quick, heroic the day before in allowing one goal to Canada, in the 5-0 loss to Finland. As though that would have made a difference in the outcome.

Some in the national media were savage in their attack on the U.S. team.

Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo!.com wrote, ''They came for gold; they left with shame.’’

At SI.com, Allen Muir was unsparing: ''. . . down early to the Finns, they simply mailed it in, going through the motions of competition rather than paying the price demanded of someone who puts on that sweater. Forget the medal. There was pride on the line, both their own and that of their nation and they played like they had a plane to catch. Shameful.’’

Shameful, indeed, and a blotch on American hockey.

But Olympic squads are basically all-star teams that have a few practices and then go out and play. What ever control coaches have over the outcome of regular-season games, and it’s not much, they have less in Olympics competition.

But that didn’t stop the fans from going after Bylsma. Below Brady McCullough’s story at post-gazette.com, these were some of the comments posted:

''Disco Dan strikes again!!!’’

''Pityful (sic) coach. The Pens will suffer the same fate’’

‘’Two games, no goals, no medal. Zero goals? Perfect. Danny Zero. Priceless.’’

Obviously, people steeped in hockey knowledge.

Bylsma, of course, must share the blame with the remainder of the American team. But it’s grossly unfair to place blame solely or even mostly on him for the 1-0 loss to Canada. As for yesterday, blame him, if you wish, for not motivating his players. But it’s tough to motivate star-caliber players who don’t want to compete, especially when they know they’ll not be playing another game for you.

Just as the regular season is relatively meaningless for the best teams in the NHL, so is preliminary-round play in Olympics hockey. The U.S. eight-round shootout win over Russia, 3-2, in the preliminary round was branded as a classic. It's now all but forgotten and should be viewed as not particularly impressive in light of how poorly the Russians played later in the tournament.

The U.S. outscored its three opponents in the preliminary round, 15-4 -- averaging five goals a game. In the medal round, it was outscored, 8-5, and averaged less than two goals a game.

While some of his teammates were not so willing to accept responsibility, U.S. forward Max Pacioretty, who plays for the Montreal Canadiens, was. He said, ''We didn't show up. We let our country down, that's it.’’


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