By Frank Pingue
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - The U.S. men's ice hockey team finally arrived in Sochi on Monday, determined to make amends for their loss in the gold medal game at the last Olympics in Vancouver.
A relatively young American team defied the odds to reach the final four years ago only to lose to Canada in overtime in a defeat that still stings.
"It was tough. Usually by the time you get the bitter taste of losing out of your mouth you're coming back to start another (National Hockey League) season," U.S. forward Patrick Kane told reporters.
"But that one took a little while to get over with. You know four, five, six months and then you're thinking about it in the summer."
Despite their lingering disappointment, goaltender Ryan Miller said there were still plenty of positives the Americans could take from the experiences they had in Vancouver.
They proved they could match it with any team, reaching the final undefeated, including a win over Canada in the preliminary round.
"That's part of the story that hasn't come out as much, just how quickly we came together and how positive we were and it's going to have to be the same feeling over here," Miller said.
"It's been a long delay, it would've been nice to get another crack earlier but for a lot of us, being on the team that year, it was definitely a disappointment to come that close."
The United States play their first game in Sochi on Thursday against Slovakia, followed by a heavyweight clash with Russia on Saturday before closing out the preliminary round versus Slovenia on Sunday.
While eager to get the 12-team tournament underway, the U.S. team was also wary about thinking too far ahead after a long flight from North America following the completion of their NHL commitments.
"These practices are important. Today was important to get a good sweat in and tomorrow and the next day are important," said forward Ryan Kesler.
"We got a good test against Slovakia and we got to play good and continue to get better."
With two more days of practices and a handful of media commitments, the next 48 hours could seem like an eternity for a squad that everyone will be watching closely this time.
"It did fly by, feels like it definitely wasn't four years ago," said U.S. Team captain Zach Parise.
"We're anxious, we're excited, but we know that just because we got silver last time there are no guarantees. We know how good these teams are."
(Reporting by Frank Pingue; editing by Julian Linden)