U.S.: 'Pride' is all that's left

Team USA's Jarred Tinordi reacts after being defeated by the Czech Republic during their 2012 IIHF...

Team USA's Jarred Tinordi reacts after being defeated by the Czech Republic during their 2012 IIHF U20 World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton, Alberta, December 30, 2011. (REUTERS/Todd Korol)

Terry Jones, Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:32 PM ET

It wasn't just the hockey gods which were conspiring against Team USA Friday. A Denmark hockey honcho kicked them five times when they were down.

In one of the most bizarre bits of business every played out on the international sporting stage -- and boy does that take some doing -- Denmark changed the million-to-one hope of the Americans to avoid the relegation round to about a billion to one.

First the U.S. followed a stunning upset loss to Finland Wednesday at the world junior with an even more shocking defeat to the Czech Republic Friday. The combination left the Americans needing Denmark to upset Finland or they'd be headed to Calgary to play in the relegation around to remain in the tournament next year.

And then Ulrik Larsson, the head of the Denmark federation here, decided to suspend five players -- Mathias Bau-Hansen, Jonas Sass-Jensen, Nicki Kisum, Anders Thode and Anders Schultz -- for a totally innocent fun bit of business after their 10-2 loss to Canada the night before. I was there. I watched it. It was harmless fun by players who gave it everything they had in the game.

The five players in question stuck their heads in the media room and decided to get a picture on the raised dias where the coaches' press conferences are held.

One of them pretended he was being interviewed and said "We were heavily favoured but we lost 10-2 to Canada." His four teammates laughed. The remaining working media laughed and went on with their business. But a video went viral and the official suspended the players.

"We're not here to be laughed at. This isn't a kids' tournament. We all saw it last night on TSN," said Ulrik Larsson.

The insane decision left Denmark with only 15 skaters. They were down 4-0 after the first period.

Almost as bizarre was the way the Canadian crowd had cheered for the Czechs in the game when, really, they were cheering against giving themselves a full-meal-deal, Canada-USA New Year's Eve game.

Be careful what you cheer for.

Canadian hockey fans relish cheering against the U.S. in hockey. But Friday at the world junior it backfired. Big time. It doused the fireworks for New Year's Eve.

The Canadian fans backed Finland to a 4-1 upset win over the Americans on Wednesday with great gusto. And the same fans were even more enthusiastic cheering for the Czech Republic here Friday afternoon, urging the young players from Prague, Pilsen, Pardubice, etc., and especially goaltender Petr Mrazek to greater heights, and what turned out to be an even more stunning 5-2 win.

The only thing that could have made it more delicious for the fans was if Mrazek -- the Ottawa 67s junior who hotdogged it with a celebration after stopping Canada's Mark Stone on a penalty shot on Wednesday and did it again against Josh Archibald on another penalty shot Friday -- had scored into the empty net. He came within a foot.

The result clinched first in the pool and a bye to the medal round for Canada. And it was just a matter of hours before the Finns' win eliminated the Americans from medal competition. The last time that happened was at the tournament in 1999 in Winnipeg when the USA finished fifth to Slovakia, Canada, Finland and the Czech Republic, and needed a 5-4 win over Switzerland and a 7-2 victory over Belarus to avoid relegation and missing the tournament the following year.

"Everyone is heartbroken right now," said J.T. Miller of his American teammates when it was over.

"We left it all out there for the USA. The pucks just weren't going in. We'll still stick together to go against Canada. It's all we can salvage," said the first American selected in the 2011 draft, No. 15 overall by the New York Rangers.

"We're going to beat Canada," said Etem Emerson of the Medicine Hat Tigers, a first round pick of Anaheim.

"There was just no justice. Puck luck wasn't on our side," said coach Dean Blais.

"Our guys are very disappointed. They're sulking. They had high expectations splashed. We came to win a medal and now we can't win one. It's hard on everybody."

He said he wasn't upset with the fans.

"That's OK. When Calgary comes here, they don't cheer for Calgary."

He said his team would come to play against Canada.

"One word. Pride."

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


Photos