SOCHI, Russia -- Team USA captain Zach Parise was using words such as "embarrassing" and "disappointing" in the mixed zone while on the television monitors dotting the interview area at Bolshoy Ice Dome, at the same time the euphoric Finns were accepting their bronze medals after rolling over an undisciplined and surprisingly fragile American team.
It made for a nice juxtaposition, if a sobering one, for a U.S. team that came into the second week of play at these Olympics as the team virtually everyone -- players, media, coaches -- agreed was playing better than any other team.
But within the space of 24 hours, the Americans were shut out 1-0 by archrival Canada in the semifinal and humbled by an injury-wracked Finnish team, 5-0.
"Disappointing," Parise said. "A little embarrassing, with what was on the line the last two days and for us to not play well really in either of the games. That's something that will frustrate all of us for quite a long time."
Like many of his teammates, Parise seemed at a loss to put his finger on just where things went so wrong.
"It's very disappointing the way the game shook out. With a medal on the line, you get blown out 5-0. That's unacceptable at this point, at this stage of the tournament," said Parise, who finished the tournament with just one goal. "We're going home empty-handed with some pretty high expectations and high hopes coming into here a couple weeks ago. To leave on this note is pretty ugly."
The stark reality of the situation is that Team USA peaked exactly one week earlier. On the first Saturday of the Olympic tournament, the U.S. beat Russia in a shootout that made T.J. Oshie a household name and had people bandying about the term "classic." Great game.
In the end, that 3-2 win that featured an eight-round shootout meant nothing, a Sochi footnote. Or, worse for the Americans, a taunting reminder of what they were capable of yet were so far from when the games really mattered.
In its final two games of this tournament, games played less than 24 hours apart, the U.S. could not find a way to convert all of the promise felt a week ago, all of the optimism felt as the U.S. headed to its second straight Olympic semifinal, into something tangible -- like an Olympic medal.
"It feels like you played this tournament for nothing," said U.S. and Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny. "You win that quarterfinal game; you get excited because you know you're going to play for a medal; and you come away with nothing. Not much to say, just disappointing, sour, I guess. A medal's a medal and it's going to be with you forever and we couldn't come up with one and that's the part that's most frustrating."
After being stifled and suffocated by Canada in a 1-0 loss, the score of which flattered the Americans, one wondered how they would respond to the crushing disappointment. And their bronze-medal showing at least started as a vigorous, compelling game of hockey before the Finns poured three goals past the U.S. in the third period.