The most viral moment of the World Cup of Hockey didn't come on the ice, but well away from it. Following Team USA's 4-2 loss to Canada, eliminating the Americans from semifinal contention, Twitter was ablaze with criticism for anyone and everyone involved in the World Cup disaster.
There was plenty of critics among the media, fans and former players, but the comment that stood out above the rest and has now been shared tens of thousands of times was that from Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel.
The recent Stanley Cup champion was one of the most surprising snubs from Team USA's roster. He ended up having to undergo surgery that would have cost him a spot anyway, but it doesn't change the fact that he was passed over when it came time to pick the team.
So he tweeted this in the immediate aftermath of the loss:
Just sitting around the house tonight w my dog. Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn't put my finger on it.— Phil Kessel (@PKessel81) September 21, 2016
Dripping with snark, that shade was felt around the world as it started raking in the retweets just about as soon as Kessel hit "Tweet."
Since Team USA still has a game to play -- a meaningless one against the also-eliminated Czech Republic to finish out round-robin play -- some of the players met with the media Wednesday for another postmortem. Kessel's tweet was a hot topic of conversation.
Team USA and Boston Bruins forward David Backes had the strongest Kessel takes (quotes via Yahoo Sports).
"It's disappointing," Backes said. "I understand there's hard feelings if you weren't picked for the team or if whatever, but the comments are, I think -- as a team guy and as a guy that stands by my teammates, win lose or draw, it's a little distasteful and aggravating."
Backes isn't soon going to forget about what Kessel tweeted either, apparently.
"Those comments don't get lost in the fray and those comments are there and have been read and I think will be remembered when whatever happens going forward happens going forward," he said.
That sounds a little like a veiled threat. On top of that, he's probably not wrong that the tweet will be remembered by future decisionmakers for Team USA. It is probably not being terribly well received in the USA Hockey offices today.
Meanwhile, Zach Parise took a more diplomatic approach, but no less terse.
"Everyone can have their opinion," Parise said. "They can say what they want to say. We were here. We tried hard, we played hard, and came up short. Didn't Phil have surgery? I don't think he could even play, anyway. His tweet didn't really make sense."
It's not at all surprising that the players were none too pleased with their ex-teammate. They're coming off of an emotional loss and have been the subject of some massive piling on from us in the media and frustrated fans. They seem to be taking Kessel's shot across the bow as one at them instead of where it's almost certainly directed.
The players don't set the lineup, the general manager and coaches do. If Kessel has any ill will, it's towards them and not the players.
Backes defended the U.S. management team, too, though. He maintained that he thought the team was built well, but that the players didn't execute. You have to admire the stand-up nature of that, putting the blame on himself and the guys on the ice, even if it's probably only half-deserved.
Kessel was not the only player to tweet some of his thoughts. A fan tried to goad Ottawa Senators forward Bobby Ryan, who was also left off the roster for the 2014 Olympics, into taking Kessel's approach to Team USA criticism. He declined, but still managed a little snark at team management's expense.
@dipduncs nah..kill USA hockey with kindness and maybe they'll let me play over 35 adult worlds if I'm not a defensive liability by then.— Bobby Ryan (@b_ryan9) September 21, 2016
The American players have also drawn criticism from long-retired players. ESPN studio analysts Brett Hull and Chris Chelios, both members of the U.S. team that won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, did not hold back in their criticism of Team USA during their analysis. A lot of it was directed at head coach John Tortorella, but there were a lot of daggers being thrown by the Hall of Famers.
Said Hull, "USA was playing checkers and Canada was playing chess."
The aftermath of Tuesday night's loss has been quite unkind to USA Hockey, the coaches and the players. This is a new low point for the organization, which is why the criticism is coming from all angles and deservedly so. It's going to be quite the storm to weather as they try to figure out how to pick up the pieces from such a disappointing result.