Winter Olympics 2018: What's next for Team USA hockey after losing to Russians

The United States men's hockey team had an opportunity to secure a bye in the elimination round of the Olympic tournament on Saturday, but that chance quickly disappeared against the Olympic Athletes from Russia, who dominated in a 4-0 rout. The loss dropped the Americans to 1-2 in Group B play, with the sole win coming in a 2-1 victory over Slovakia

OAR completely dominated zone control throughout the game, and that's where Team USA needs to get better. If the Americans can't start to control the puck, they have no chance whatsoever of advancing to quarterfinal play.

The thing is, this team wasn't expected to bring home the gold. Losing NHL representation crippled Team USA, especially so late in the cycle, hearkening back to the Miracle on Ice days -- but that was called a miracle for a reason. The American team, frankly, isn't that good this year. Gary Bettman's decision to keep NHL players out of the Olympics was already controversial, but after this showing there's a very real chance we'll see people harassing the NHL commissioner to bring them back to the Olympics, whether that's realistic or not.

The reason is simple: This team finished behind Slovenia in group play. That's not good. In a group with Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia, Team USA was hardly in a Group of Death. But it still finished in third place, because it's a teddy bear as well. It's hard to blame the players. They're nearly 30 years old in average age, and they're fielding some of the United States' oldest Olympians across any discipline. It's a difficult situation, period.

The team inspired some hope early on, going up 2-0 on Slovenia in the first game of group play. Team USA then gave up three unanswered goals, including the overtime game winner. Team USA then won 2-1 against Slovakia, inspiring further hope for the group. However, OAR's Nikolai Prokhorkin quickly dashed that hope, scoring two goals for Russia before former NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk slammed the door shut for a 4-0 Russia win.

So what's next for Team USA? An elimination game, technically. Between Monday night and Tuesday morning, the first round of the playoffs will be played. However, Team USA needs to think about the bigger picture too. The first step is to recruit younger talent. Presuming that the NHL continues to keep players out of the Olympics, the only way to get another Lake Placid will be to recruit players that can handle the strain of the Olympics. That's not to say that the current team is somehow out of shape -- it's just old. And as long as players from the Kontinental Hockey League are allowed to represent Russia, the 4-0 gulf will be apparent.

This team might not medal, but it's certainly giving a lot to think about moving forward. And it isn't out yet, there's still hope. But it's a longshot. And if Team USA fails to make the quarterfinals or, worse, gets routed on Monday night/Tuesday morning, then fans (and NHL players, for that matter) may be fairly vocal in letting the country's best represent the country. Because four goals in group play isn't going to cut it if you want to field a team with any chance at a medal.

Medal Tracker
PyeongChang 2018
Country
Gold
Silver
Bronze
TOTAL
NOR 14 14 11 39
GER 14 10 7 31
CAN 11 8 10 29
USA 9 8 6 23
NED 8 6 6 20
SWE 7 6 1 14
KOR 5 8 4 17
SUI 5 6 4 15
FRA 5 4 6 15
AUT 5 3 6 14
JPN 4 5 4 13
ITA 3 2 5 10
OAR 2 6 9 17
CZE 2 2 3 7
BLR 2 1 0 3
CHN 1 6 2 9
SVK 1 2 0 3
FIN 1 1 4 6
GBR 1 0 4 5
POL 1 0 1 2
HUN 1 0 0 1
UKR 1 0 0 1
AUS 0 2 1 3
SLO 0 1 1 2
BEL 0 1 0 1
ESP 0 0 2 2
NZL 0 0 2 2
LIE 0 0 1 1
KAZ 0 0 1 1
LAT 0 0 1 1
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