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Burke not satisfied with 3-0 Team USA

by Shawn P. Roarke
VANCOUVER -- So much for a celebratory hangover plaguing the Americans after their statement win Sunday night against Team Canada in the final Group A game.
Brian Burke delivered a wakeup call to his team Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the team had engineered the program's biggest win -- a heart-pounding, character-building 5-3 victory -- since beating Canada for the World Cup 14 years ago.
Burke sounds the alarm 48 hours before the Americans play the winner of Tuesday's qualification game between the Swiss and the Belarusians in Wednesday's single-elimination quarterfinal at Canada Hockey Place.
"You guys are probably going to be shocked by this, but I'm not happy with the way we've played to this point," Burke said during an afternoon press conference at Canada Hockey Place. "If that's how we play, we're going to have a hard time getting to where we want to get here and medaling."
Those words may have gone down as easily as swallowing a handful of aspirin without a water chaser on the morning after, but might serve the same cure-all purpose for a young team that might get ahead of itself after slaying its most bitter enemy in the biggest game of the first half of this tournament.
And, it was not a warning that was designed to be carried to the players by the media. No, the American team is too insulated for such a plan to work. Plus, Burke is far too hands-on a manager to concern himself with third-party delivery.
"I'll see to it by tomorrow that they understand first-hand how I feel about it," Burke promised.
Why such stridency after a win that is being roundly celebrated throughout the USA Hockey community today? Because Burke knows he has built a team that is better than just one big preliminary-round win; a win that will mean nothing if the Americans lose in the quarterfinals.
Also, he still sees elements in the American game that could portend disaster.
Despite being the top seed -- edging Sweden on goal-differential for the honor -- Team USA has been far too sloppy in the neutral zone, turning the puck over regularly and counting on Miller to clean up the mistakes.
It also hasn't put together a full 60 minutes, going to sleep after taking early leads against Switzerland and Norway and then allowing the play to be taken to them By the Canadians for much of the second period Sunday.
Perhaps, most scarily, he doesn't believe the American effort would have been good enough against Canada on another day.
"Except for the goaltending decision, we didn't deserve to win last night," Burke said. "That being said, that is why we brought (Miller). We're not going to apologize for the team we brought. That's why he is here, because he makes saves like that and that is why we were able to win the game."
And, although he is supremely confident Miller can steal a game from every team in the Olympic tournament, he does not want to sit through another three games like Sunday's white-knuckle affair if he can avoid it.
"We have to play significantly better," he said. "We need all hands on deck. We're playing with about 10 guys carrying us, in my opinion I'm not happy with the way we've played. I'm not unhappy, because we're in the first seed and thank god there are some guys pulling on the rope. But, we need everyone pulling on the rope.
"You didn't see Canada's best game last night. You didn't see Sweden's best game last night (in a 3-0 win against Finland). Everything gets ratcheted up now. We've got to ratchet it up too -- or all this goes for naught. They don't hand out any medals for finishing first in the preliminary round."
Fortunately, for a team that has used its youth infusion to carry the day for much of the first round, the veteran core is starting to take over the room. Sunday night, it was Team USA's only three past Olympians that scored the goals.
"You guys are probably going to be shocked by this, but I'm not happy with the way we've played to this point.  If that's how we play, we're going to have a hard time getting to where we want to get here and medaling." -- Brian Burke
Defenseman Brian Rafalski had two goals and an assist. Chris Drury, in his third Olympics, had a goal, while Jamie Langenbrunner netted the game-winner. But, that is just on the ice.
In the room, those same players are spreading the Burke gospel to the acolytes, which means it should get the proper amount of air time before Wednesday's quarterfinal.
"Clearly as this tournament goes on, you do want to get better in every single game," Drury said during a Monday morning conference call. "I think looking after those first two games, maybe not last night, there were some odd-man rushes that you won't get away with later in the tournament. Defensively, I think every team is always looking to be better in our own end."

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