The U.S. team that traveled to Slovakia and the Czech Republic for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament didn't need the extra motivation that came from playing Canada in the final. Getting to the title game was their goal since the beginning of July, when coach Tim Army put the team together.
"We wanted to win the gold medal," Army told NHL.com. "We put together a team that we felt would bring home a gold medal. We felt very, very good about where we were at. We let the kids know why they were with us and what they were going to bring to the team to make us better."
Things didn't work out as planned, as the U.S. lost 1-0 to Canada. The Canadians scored just 1:42 into the game and shut down a U.S. offense that had scored five goals in each of the previous three games. Canada out-shot the U.S., 24-22.
"It was a battle," Army said. "Both teams went at it hard. Both teams can skate. Each side had some good chances. The goaltenders were very, very good. Both teams were in the final for a reason. From our perspective, we weren't able to score. The goaltending was good and the Canadians played hard off the puck and limited our chances to convert. Unfortunately we came up a goal short, but certainly not from a lack of effort or commitment from the kids."
"We didn’t have as many shots," U.S. forward Lukas Sutter told NHL.com. "We didn't throw as many pucks at the net, and when push comes to shove, you have to throw pucks at the net to get goals. You have to take shots to score. (Canada) didn't have many shots, either, but that one shot early was the difference."
The second-place finish was the best for the U.S. since it took home silver in 2006. Army knows this experience will help the players grow and will benefit them in the long run.
"To play at this level, in an international event with some great hockey-playing countries, is a great learning experience for the kids," Army said. "In addition, realizing they can compete at that level is a huge advantage for them."
Wearing the red, white and blue was an honor for these young men and something they will remember forever.
"The experience was something that was once in a lifetime," Sutter said. "To get to experience it was something I'm proud of. Wearing the red, white and blue was an honor. Any time you get to play with the national team, it's something you can't really explain. To get to do it was pretty cool."
The trip overseas wasn't just about hockey. The team did some sightseeing and even went to a castle in the Czech Republic that was built in the 1200s.
"We might think our country is old, but that castle was built 500 years before we became an official country," Army said. "Hopefully this trip opened their eyes to things besides hockey, and hopefully it became a well-rounded, educational experience for these kids."