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U.S. Focus Renewed After Sunday Practice

By Harry Thompson - Editor, USA Hockey Magazine, 09/18/16, 3:45PM MDT

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Must-win game against rival Canada awaits Tuesday at World Cup of Hockey

TORONTO -- The warm temperatures on this early autumn morning has the residents of Toronto outside enjoying the last gasps of nice weather. Inside the Team USA practice facility, that warm air collides with the cold ice to leave a foggy haze on plexiglass inside Ricoh Coliseum as the team takes the ice for practice.

Less than 24 hours after Saturday's stunning 3-0 loss to Team Europe, it is an appropriate metaphor as the American's prospects of moving on at the World Cup of Hockey are suddenly as clear as the condensation on the glass.

And with his team facing a huge test on Tuesday against the high-powered Canadians, U.S. head coach John Tortorella was hoping the early practice would help clear his players' minds and help them get ready for the challenges ahead.

"We need the next two days [to prepare]," Tortorella said. "Today is a day of digestion. It's more of a walk through of some of the concepts we'd like to bring in and try to improve on. Tomorrow will be a work day, and that's when we have to put this behind us."

Immediately after the game players talked about their desire to play the most important game of the tournament right away, but the coaching staff thinks that time will help heal the sting of Saturday's stunning loss.

"The players will tell you that they've put this behind them. I don't think they have yet," Tortorella said. "I'm glad we have the two days. Not so much for taking care of the physical but the mental."

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There's no doubt that Tortorella's troops will be emotionally ready to take on the Canadians, who opened the tournament with a 6-0 win over the Czech Republic on Saturday. He also knows that this squad, which was built for just this type of game, will not back down in this test of wills between North American rivals.

The Americans know they need to step up their offensive execution to keep their hopes alive. Forwards need to be more aggressive on the forecheck, blue liners need to show a greater sense of urgency in getting the puck up the ice, and they certainly can't give up the odd-man rushes that resulted in two Team Europe goals.

"To sum it up for me, I don't think we were awful but we certainly weren't good enough," Tortorella said. "I think we have the ability to do that and hopefully we do that Tuesday night."

While the U.S. did muster 35 shots on Team Europe Jaroslav Halak, the Americans weren't able to get any traffic in front of him to take away his eyes or create second-chance opportunities. That will have to change against Carey Price or whomever the Canadians put in goal.

"One of the things that made us successful in those pre-tournament games [against Canada] was guys getting to the net," said forward Kyle Palmieri, who did not play in the opener. "Whether they're pretty goals or dirty goals, they all count. There's no pictures on the scoresheet. We just have to go and crash the net and hopefully bang a couple in on Tuesday."

These two clubs are certainly no strangers to one another. They know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and what they need to do to be successful. If history proves anything, it's that the Americans know how to win on Canadian ice.

Dating back to the first World Cup of Hockey held 20 years ago, the U.S beat the Canadians twice in Montreal to take home the trophy. And in Vancouver in 2010, the U.S won a matchup in the preliminary round of the Olympic tournament and came within an overtime goal of winning the gold-medal.

"Those experiences give you a little bit of confidence," said two-time Olympian David Backes. "We beat them in the [preliminary round] in Vancouver but you also know that the gold-medal game was an overtime game and we had a few chances early and they were able to find one that goes in the back of the net to win.

"Even in the exhibition we were able to split with them, and those types of experiences say that we're able to beat this team and we just need bring our A game and stick to the script. That needs to start with each guy looking in the mirror and bringing what they can to this group."

The next chapter in that script will feature a fairly straightforward scenario -- win and live to potentially play another day, or see your semifinal hopes all but eliminated.

"This is not where we hoped to be," Backes said. "We have to beat Canada and beat the Czechs to move on in this tournament. First things first. We're going to prepare to play the Canadians and try to win that game. We dug ourselves a bit of a hole and we have to start climbing out on Tuesday."

The Americans always knew a do-or-die game against Canada would likely stand in their way of the title. They could never imagine it would come so soon.

"Tuesday is our championship game," Tortorella said. "We knew we'd have to go through Canada. That game has just come earlier for us now. If we are fortunate to get through, hopefully we get another one."

World Cup News

Team USA Schedule & Results

Date Opponent/Event Location Result
Fri, Sept. 9 Canada (Pre-Tourn.) Columbus, OH (Nationwide) W, 4-2
Sat., Sept. 10 Canada (Pre-Tourn.) Ottawa, Ont. L, 2-5
Tues., Sept. 13 Finland (Pre-Tourn.) Washington, D.C. (Verizon) W, 3-2
Sat., Sept. 17 Team Europe Toronto (ACC) L, 0-3
Tues., Sept. 20 Canada Toronto (ACC) L, 2-4
Thurs., Sept. 22 Czech Republic Toronto (ACC) L, 3-4

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