GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Walking out of the arena after the USA's quarterfinal defeat to the Czech Republic, one could hear snatches of conversation in which U.S. fans griped about what a cruel and capricious decider a penalty shootout is.
"It's like having a home run derby after nine innings of baseball," one man complained.
"You play a whole tournament and then you're out on a Rock-Paper-Scissors game," said another.
But after a disappointing loss to the Czech Republic, U.S. coach Tony Granato and his team were not making any apologies for their play in this Olympic tournament and they weren't looking to make any excuses either.
"Our team left it on the ice, we played hard, we played well," Granato told reporters after the quarterfinal defeat. "We played five games and only lost one game in regulation. There's an awful lot to be proud of."
Granato was equally indifferent to any talk of his team missing NHL players or whether the penalty shootout should be abandoned in the Olympic hockey tournament, "Did we like that it went to a shootout that would determine whether we moved on or didn't move on? No. But those were the rules and we knew those rules coming in."
In the only note of regret he was willing to indulge, Granato did make it clear that he wanted another shot at the Olympic Athletes from Russia, who beat the U.S. 4-0 in group play and advanced to the semifinal against the Czechs by breezing past Norway 6-1 on Wednesday.
"They might be the best team in the world right now," Granato said of the Russians. "But I thought how we played them and how we attacked them, we could have gone back at them [in the semifinal]. I'm not saying we would have won the game, but we [would] put ourselves in a position to win that game."
But the U.S. was unable to overcome a Czech team who bossed the quarterfinal matchup for long stretches, pinning the U.S. in its own defensive zone with a well-organized forecheck and crisp passing when they had possession. One such sequence lasted more than eight minutes at the beginning of the second period and resulted in a goal by Tomas Kundratek, putting the Czech Republic up 2-1.
Against the run of play, the U.S. tied the score just a couple of minutes later after a turnover led to goal by Jim Slater, who had a lively performance overall. And with under three minutes left in the final period, U.S. forward Brian O'Neill had what surely would have been a game winner carom off the post.
A controversial slashing penalty gave the U.S. a man advantage in the closing moments of regulation and the beginning of overtime, but they were unable to capitalize. "We looked scrambled in that key moment," U.S. captain Brian Gionta said to NBC.
The subsequent shootout was a masterclass by Czech goalkeeper Pavel Francouz, who showed remarkable patience and guile in shutting out the five U.S. penalty takers.
A few U.S. players mentioned afterward that Francouz's left-handedness gave them a look they weren't used to, but mainly they gushed about what a wonderful experience they'd had at these Games.
"It's amazing, all of us should be proud of what we did," U.S. goalkeeper Ryan Zapolski said. "I think maybe in 10 or 15 years, when we're done playing and we look back on it, it will be one of the best moments of our careers."
Special praise was doled out to Team USA youngsters such as Troy Terry, Jordan Greenway and Ryan Donato. Donato scored five goals in the tournament and joked postgame about having to complete homework for his Harvard professors before he returned home.
"They're awesome. I'm sure you'll see those kids in the years to come in the NHL," O'Neill said. "The way they carry themselves off the ice is what really impresses me. That'll tell you how much they're going to go do in the future."