SOCHI, Russia — It took a generation but Finland’s hockey team finally got even for having to play the role of the no-name opponents in the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid, when the Boys of Winter clinched their gold medal and cost Suomi’s sons a bronze. And, to quote Herb Brooks, this bunch of Americans will take Saturday’s loss “to their [expletive] graves.”
“It feels like we have played this tournament for nothing,” forward Paul Stastny concluded after his teammates left Olympus with pins and postcards after absorbing a 5-0 flogging from the Finns in the bronze-medal match inside the Bolshoy Ice Dome that arguably was the most humiliating US loss since the Yanks first suited up at the Games 94 years ago.
It was embarrassing, their captain said. The Americans, who averaged five goals a game until they got to the medal round, were shut out for 120 minutes once they got there. “We just didn’t play well, there’s no way around it,” said Zach Parise. “In the last two games we didn’t play good enough to win and we didn’t deserve to win.”
Not after Patrick Kane missed two penalty shots. Not after they let Teemu Selanne and Jussi Jokinen walk in for two goals within 11 seconds in the first minute and a half of the second period. Not when they gave up goals on three consecutive power plays in the third, the first of them just as a silly tripping penalty by Kane expired. “They wanted it more than us,” said goaltender Jonathan Quick (24 saves), whose mates hung him out to dry.
The Finns, who’d been edged by their Swedish neighbors on Friday, busted a gut for a medal, as they always do. They’ve never won the gold, but they’ve made the podium in six of the last eight Games, four times claiming the bronze. “It’s amazing,” said Tuukka Rask, who shut out the Yanks on 27 saves after missing the semis with a flu-like ailment. “Nobody ever picks us to win anything, but somehow we always find a way to win one.”
The Americans will do whatever it takes to win a medal, as long as it’s gold. Historically they’ve played for the bronze as if it’s a subway token. In 1992, after they lost by three goals to the Unified Team in Albertville, they took a 6-1 beatdown from the Czechs. In 1976 after they lost, 4-1, to the West Germans, a half dozen players brawled with locals in an Innsbruck tavern.
This time, once the Yanks went down, 2-0, they stopped skating. “They played like they had something to win, and we just kind of shut it down,” observed Parise. The Finns, whose “sisu” quality is an ineffable blend of guts and grit, would have played until the summer solstice if they had to. These are the same people who took on Russian tanks in the Winter War with Molotov cocktails and skis. They didn’t come to this icebox by the Black Sea for a certificate of participation.
“There’s a big difference if you win or lose this game,” said Kimmo Timonen, who would have been hung in effigy in Helsinki if the US had won on Kane’s first penalty shot after Timonen flicked a broken stick toward Ryan Kesler while he had the puck. “You either get this or you don’t get anything. We, as a country, we want it.”
Mostly they wanted it for the 43-year-old Selanne, the eternal “Finnish Flash” who made his debut with the senior team in 1991, scored two goals in his final match, and collected his fourth Olympic medal. “I have been carrying this jersey with a lot of love and pride,” he said, “and winning this last game like this was a dream come true.”
Rask, who wasn’t seasoned enough to make the 2010 team that won bronze in Vancouver, wasn’t going to miss a medal chance, not after he stoned the Russians in the quarterfinals. “It [stinks] that I couldn’t play [Friday],” he said, “but I wanted to play today no matter how I felt.”
Kane had scored the shootout winner on Rask last month in the Bruins’ first meeting with the Blackhawks since the Stanley Cup, and Rask wanted to even things. He got two chances as Kane missed on the first and hit the post on the second. “You think you’d score at least once,” sighed Kane, who went scoreless in six games here.
The same team that scored six goals in less than 14 minutes against the Slovaks, that popped five on the Czechs in the quarters, that beat the Russians in a shootout for the ages, came up barren when it mattered. “I think it started [Friday],” mused Parise, who said the Americans “had no jam in our play and no speed in our skates. We didn’t show up to play a tough team in Canada.”
And once the Finns hit them with a 1-2 punch on Saturday, the Yanks vanished. If the NHL decides not to play in Korea in 2018, this likely was the last time they’ll ever lace up at Olympus. “If we played our butts off and were ousted or had better teams best us, I think you can live with that,” said forward David Backes. “But when it’s less than stellar performances, especially in a tournament like thus, it is going to be a sour, sour feeling.”John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.