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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
Hockey fans are in a state of shock.

North America was shut out of a medal at the men's tournament at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, on Wednesday as both the United States and Canada lost.

The defeats sent shockwaves throughout the hockey world, including the Pittsburgh Penguins lockerroom.

"It's disappointing," forward Ryan Malone said. "Look at the world-class players they have over there. They are just playing one game, so for whatever reason - you might have a slow start and it could end up costing you the game."

Malone, who was a candidate for the U.S. team, was surprised to see unbeaten Finland upend the Americans, 4-3, in the quarterfinals.

"Any of those teams can win the gold now," he said. "Going into the tournament, given a hot goalie or whatever it may be, anyone can win it and that's what makes it exciting to watch."

However, Canada's 2-0 defeat to Russia in the quarterfinals was an even bigger surprise.

"Definitely. Being Canadian, the expectations are so high. We pretty much don't accept anything but gold," rookie Sidney Crosby said. "That's the way it is. I don't think it's a bad thing; I think it's good to have those expectations. It does make it tough on the players who are representing the country. There is a lot of pressure and I definitely feel for them on a day like this.

"Realistically, you can't win every gold medal of every tournament, so it has to happen. I just think it hurts a little bit more seeing as how it will be four more years before you can really do anything about it. I think that's probably the toughest part."

The Penguins have two rookies who are likely to be cornerstones of Olympic teams for the next decade or so - Crosby with Canada and Ryan Whitney with the United States.

Crosby, who is only 18, was a candidate for the team this year, but was left off as the Canadians went for a veteran-oriented approach. However, he should be one of the Team Canada's top players for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

"It's going to be four years. A lot could happen, so I am probably not going to be thinking about it too much," he said. "I'd love to have the opportunity when the time comes. To play in the Olympics would be a dream come true. I am sure the hunger from all the players is going to be there with the way this one went. Hopefully, everyone can learn from it and make sure they put a good performance out there in Vancouver."

Canada, which was a gold-medal favorite in Torino, should have another talented team in 2010 with an abundance of blossoming young stars like Crosby, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Carolina's Eric Staal and Ottawa's Jason Spezza.

"I don't think it's time to panic at all. I think we have a lot of great young players and guys have a lot of passion - I think the whole country has a lot of passion," Crosby said. "I don't think that's anything that will be matched by anyone else. I think the passion Canada has for hockey is really special and I think it's something that will help us in the long run. I think if guys continue to improve and play with that passion, hopefully we're going to be successful."                          

Whitney, a 23-year-old, is considered by many as one of America's best young defensemen.

"Being from the United States, it's disappointing [to see them lose]. But they gave their best effort. In the last three or four games, it was pretty obvious that they played really well. The puck just didn't go in for them," he said. "Unfortunately, they didn't get a medal, but there is always the next Olympics and World Cup. Those are things to look forward to."

Whitney hopes he can continue to improve and find a place on the U.S. roster in 2010.

"That's something I'd love to be a part of. If I could ever play in one or two Olympics, that'd be a dream come true," he said. "Hopefully, if I can keep improving as a player, I am in USA Hockey's plans to be a part of their defensive unit. That's something that's pretty cool to think about."

While Team USA went with a veteran-laden team this year, he knows the U.S. has plenty of young talent ready to take over in Vancouver.

"There's a lot of real good young players from the United States playing in the NHL now. There are a lot of guys who are going to be drafted this year that you hear about or read about," he said. "It's exciting. I wouldn't say that we have a Sidney Crosby like Canada or a Malkin or Ovechkin in Russia. We have a lot of real good young players that hopefully we can build a solid team and a solid group of guys who can be together for 8-10 years."

Evgeni Malkin, who at 19 is the youngest player in the Olympic tournament, is another Penguins prospect who should be part of the international landscape for many years. The 2004 second-overall pick is playing extremely well with six points in six games. He is hoping for a berth in the gold-medal game as Russia battles Finland on Friday.



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