Ed. Note: I'm publishing this now in advance of the Finland-Denmark game, the result of which should officially eliminate the Americans, and if it doesn't, well... you're welcome US fans. I'll be in attendance at that game, without my laptop, so I didn't want to leave this article unpublished.
On some level, it's not entirely shocking for the Americans to lose a game to either Finland or the Czechs, especially in the manner both games played out. The Americans generated a ton of chances, had good puck possession, but couldn't solve the opposing goaltender and the other team took advantage of turnovers, errors and poached the Americans in a bit of a rope-and-dope type game scenario. But the shocking thing is that it happened twice, with the US losing to two inferior rosters back-to-back and knocking a legitimate gold medal contender to the relegation round.
I say it isn't shocking because upsets happen often in hockey between teams that have players that are on relatively similar footing. Say what you will about the state of Czech hockey, but all of the players on their roster are playing in similar quality leagues to the Americans, and some have already started their professional careers. In the end, roster advantage can be overcome in a single game with a number of factors, none more prominent than goaltending. Petr Mrazek and Sami Aittokallio combined to give the USA a 3.23% shooting percentage, scoring only three times on 93 shots. In the tournament as a whole, American goaltenders Jack Campbell and John Gibson gave up 11 goals on 69 shots (an 84.1 SV%). It's such a small sample, but it's what this tournament is about.
The Americans of 1992, who are considered one of the best groups of American hockey players ever, are now the favourites for 7th place.
What shouldn't be lost here is how huge of a win this is for the Czechs. The past two years, they have finished outside the medal round in 7th place, finishing in the relegation round where they easily dispatched of their opponents. Now they will get a chance to play with the top teams, and are riding a hot goaltender. In front of the Czechs, this is a much better team than we've seen the past couple of years, and if any team is able to do some damage, it was going to be this group.
So, to Petr Holik, Tomas Fillippi, Thomas Hertl, Petr Mrazek, Bohumil Jank, David Musil and underrated captain Tomas Nosek, as well as the rest of their teammates, a well deserved congratulations as the Czechs return to the top part of the draw at the World Juniors. To the Americans... you're the latest victims as to just how unforgiving this tournament can be.
And to Canadian fans, basking in the Americans' demise... this fate can happen to you. And it has before (Hello, 1998).