Do you believe in debacles?
YESSSS!!!!The bad news is, the underachieving U.S. men's hockey team lost to the Czech Republic Wednesday, taking whatever scant CBS ratings might be left from these Games with them. The good news, they lost before 6 p.m. Japan time, meaning happy hour was still raging at Thirty's and the Pink Elephant.
They were supposed to come here, compete for a gold and help sell hockey to the pucks-ignorant corners of the home country. Instead, Team Kirin proved themselves adept at little more than making last call. The greatest sin was not that they lost in the first round of medal play and will not even compete for a medal; the greatest sin was the way they carried themselves, the way they came off as a bunch of Ugly Americans who, you knew as early as the Belarus game, were poised for a nasty fall.
They talked way too much. They partied way too much. And they cared far too little.
"We deserved to lose," said American forward Keith Tkaczuk.
He was asked, "Were you not well prepared enough to win these games?"
He shook his head. "We weren't well enough to do anything," he said. "It's just a big disappointment. This was the biggest waste of time being over here. I hate to be negative, but . . ."
But there's no choice. Because this is - was - a world-class team. Some argument can be made that Pittsburgh's Tom Barrasso should have been in goal instead of the Rangers' Mike Richter, who has had an ordinary season and had an ordinary Olympics. But top to bottom, this was a Dream Team, basically the same team that stunned Canada and the rest of the world in the 1996 World Cup.
The talent was there. The commitment, the will, the passion, that was lost somewhere between the mainland and the International Date Line. If only the U.S. could have sent the women to do the men's job.
It's this simple: Washington Capitals and U.S. coach Ron Wilson did the worst American Olympic coaching job since John Thompson and the 1988 basketball team. Worse yet, he decided to get a pre-game military buzzcut - performed, apparently, by a samurai barber using ginsu knives - meaning he will not only go home without a medal, but with a truly horrible haircut, to boot.
How did Wilson and his men screw up? Let me count the ways:
- Too much yapping. Even before they had played a game, the Americans acted as if they should be awarded the gold simply for showing up. They talked large and played small. They challenged the Canadians verbally, then backed down physically.
- Too much carousing. Brett Hull, who is wonderfully open and honest, insisted that during his 10 nights in Nagano, he was in bed by eight for eight of those nights. (We are assuming 8 p.m. rather than 8 a.m.) "I think maybe we should have partied more," Hull said after the Czech loss. "We were getting stifled, staying in our rooms, doing crossword puzzles."
Still, the Americans were the talk of the athletes' village. One U.S. athlete told me every time he got in an elevator late at night, American hockey players were there, reeking of alcohol. A day didn't pass without a good U.S. bar story, from Gary Suter's late-night confrontation with a Canadian fan to Jeremy Roenick's "Dance Fever" exhibition at the Pink Elephant. Nobody, least of all those of us who enjoy an occasional late night, holds the revelry against the Americans. But last Saturday, after Wilson spent days insisting his team needed more time to adapt to the international-sized ice rink, the coach canceled practice, claiming his team was jet-lagged and fatigued. It was learned later a number of high-profile players were, in fact, running around Nagano's Gondo District until the early morning.