The Hockey Championship the U.S. Men Just Can’t Seem to Win

After a strong start, the U.S. men’s hockey team was disappointingly eliminated from the world championship over the weekend. Again.

The U.S. team, stocked with many N.H.L. players, had breezed through pool play in Finland with a 7-0 record, then beat the Czech Republic in the quarterfinal. That put the Americans into a semifinal against Germany, a team with players primarily from German League teams like Eisbären Berlin (the Berlin Polar Bears) and Kölner Haie (the Cologne Sharks).

The United States has failed to win a stand-alone world championship since 1933. It hasn’t even made a final since 1950. A victory over Germany on Saturday would have changed that. The United States lost, 4-3, in overtime.

The annual world championship is a curious event. It is an important international tournament, not far below the Olympics in prestige, at least among hockey devotees. But because it coincides with the N.H.L. playoffs, many nations are unable to play some of their best players.

Instead, players are hastily recruited from teams that did not make the playoffs or were knocked out quickly. While some of the players are N.H.L. journeymen, strong players like Tyler Toffoli of Canada (73 points for the Calgary Flames this season) suit up, too. And just about every superstar — Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid — has played in the event.

Still, the tournament often gets overlooked by fans more intent on following the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Players who win a Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and a world championship belong to what’s known as the Triple Gold Club — a feat achieved by Peter Forsberg of Sweden, Viacheslav Fetisov of Russia, Crosby of Canada, and Jaromir Jagr of the Czech Republic, among others. But no Americans.

Because most of the international teams are missing superstar players, everyone is equally disadvantaged and the best hockey countries tend to win. Besides this year’s winner, Canada, the other champions in this century have been Finland, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic and Slovakia. But not the United States.

Technically, the United States won a “world championship” in 1960. But it was at the Olympics, which was considered a world championship at the time. (That rule changed before the “Miracle on Ice” Olympic victory of 1980.) But even if you credit one or both of those wins, it has been a long time since U.S. men won gold.

The United States led its semifinal this year 3-2, when Germany scored with 1 minute 23 seconds left after pulling its goalie. Germany then won in overtime on a goal by Frederik Tiffels of EHC Red Bull München.

Rocco Grimaldi, a player for the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League, led the tournament with seven goals and seven assists for 14 points for the United States. The American team also included three Olympians — Drew Commesso, also of the IceHogs; Sean Farrell of the Montreal Canadiens; and Nick Perbix of the Tampa Bay Lightning — along with Alex Tuch of the Buffalo Sabres and goalie Casey DeSmith of the Pittsburgh Penguins. They lost out on a bronze medal as well, after a 4-3 loss to Latvia on Sunday.

(While U.S. hockey fans may not have tuned in, Latvian ones certainly did. A national holiday was declared after the country’s unexpected medal, its first.)

Canada celebrating its gold medal.Credit…Jussi Nukari/Lehtikuva/Via Reuters

It has been a long time since 1933. For the tournament that year, just the third stand-alone world championship, the United States sent a team of collegians, called the Boston Olympic Club, to Prague. The club beat Canada, represented by the Toronto Nationals, 2-1, in the final.

“World Title to U.S. Six,” was the New York Times headline over a two-paragraph article about the game. The player who scored the winning goal, John B. Garrison, declined to play in the N.H.L. after playing for Harvard but made the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame for his amateur exploits. The goalie on the team was Gerry Cosby, who went on to found the sporting goods company that bears his name.

At the time, the tournament was strictly amateur, leading to a period in the ’60s and ’70s when it was dominated by the mighty “amateur” Soviet team. N.H.L. players were admitted in the 1970s, leading to the current system in which players from teams not advancing in the playoffs make up most of the rosters.

That still has not helped the Americans, who have won seven bronzes since that silver in 1950.

Because of the lack of many top players, fans often consider the World Cup of Hockey and its predecessor, the Canada Cup, to be more prestigious because they have regularly featured the best players in the world. The United States won the World Cup once, in 1996. It has not been held since 2016, though there are hopes to revive it in a few years.

And the U.S. women, who dominate the world game alongside Canada, have a strong record at the worlds, winning 10 titles in the 22 years of the event.

But when it comes to the men’s world championships, the United States seems destined to keep coming up short.

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