Feb 21, 2014, 9:50 PM EDT
SOCHI, Russia – This seems to be the Olympics when everyone around United States hockey officially got sick of the Miracle on Ice. Well, it was inevitable. With the Olympics being in Russia, with famed Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak (who was pulled in the Miracle) lighting the torch, with my generation reaching the age of cloying nostalgia and with the U.S. men’s team looking for its first Olympics hockey gold since that 1980 team, everything pointed to overkill.*
*Which I happily participated in.
Thing is, hockey in America is nothing like it was in 1980. This was the point the U.S. hockey team kept hammering. Everything has changed. Now, professional hockey players are at the Olympic. Now, the U.S. team has some of the best players in the world. Now, the U.S. team has speed and size and depth that is the envy of almost every hockey-playing country in the world. When the U.S. team played Russia this time around, it was the Americans who were favored, and the Americans who played the villains when they got a favorable call and won in a gritty shootout.
So, yes, everybody was ready to move on from the constant reminders about a bunch of college hockey players who won a gold medal 34 years ago.
Trouble is, to get people to stop talking about the Miracle on Ice, you have to stop losing one-goal games to Canada when it matters most.
The U.S. did lose another one-goal game to Canada in an Olympic semifinal Friday … this after the U.S. women one day earlier lost a crushing one-goal game to Canada in the gold medal game … this after the U.S. men lost a crushing one-goal game to Canada in the gold medal game in Vancouver, one of the most famous hockey games ever played.
To be fair, the United States’ 1-0 loss to Canada was different from the others. It felt cleaner and did not leave much room for regret. That’s because the Canadians pretty thoroughly outplayed the Americans. Was it not for some head-stand saves from Jonathan Quick – “our best player tonight,” U.S. coach Dan Bylsma said – the score easily could have been 3-0 or 4-0.
Meanwhile the “0” on the American end of the score was more or less locked in. It is hard to imagine a team playing more suffocating defense than Canada played Friday. The U.S. power play was rendered all but useless. And other than a couple of moderate chances early and Paul Stansny’s point-blank shots in front in the second period, the U.S. rarely even threatened to score.
The game was played at a high level—the speed on the ice was mesmerizing — and it was entertaining in its own way. But it really was quite a let-down from the famous gold medal game of four years ago. Well, for one thing that was a gold-medal match, while this was a semifinal just to see who would play Sweden for gold. That was a quirk in the seeding, and it definitely altered some of the emotion.*
*Though back home, the “Loser Keeps Bieber” campaign – featured on a Chicago billboard and trending on Twitter – certainly created some fire.
Then there was the quiet. Here you had the two best hockey teams on earth – two of the most talented hockey teams ever put together – and it was so eerily quiet in the Bolshoy Ice Palace. Every now and again, a hearty soul would try to start up a U-S-A chant or beg the Canadians to finish one of their numerous goal-scoring chances and then it would dissolve into stillness.
Much of the time, the arena was quiet enough to read bedtime stories aloud.
So strange … but then maybe not. No event at these Olympics brought so much pain to the host country as hockey. The Russian hockey team lost to the U.S. in the aforementioned shootout that was, for many Americans, the emotional peak of these Olympics and was for Russian fans the very symbol of fraud. A goal-ahead goal by the Russians was nullified because the cage of the net was slightly off its mooring. Russians who even conceded the point that the net WAS off still believed that U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick had been the one to knock it off. Angry fans demonstrated in Moscow. Television networks replayed the disallowed goal again and again.
Then, more disconcerting, the Russian team disappeared in a 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Finland that featured no controversy and also no life from a gifted collection of Russian players who never quite came together.
So, it is logical that there simply wasn’t much enthusiasm left for the sport. Tack on the Russians’ famous reticence – something that various non-Russian figure skaters noticed during their soundless programs – and what you had was a striking lack of energy and volume. We grow so used to the biggest sporting events being loud and the tension being almost tangible.
But Friday, early in the second period, Canada’s Jay Bouwmeester – a tough defenseman not necessarily known for his playmaking abilities – slapped a pass that Jamie Benn deflected over Quick to give Canada that 1-0 lead. And then the rest of the game just kind of melted away almost unnoticed. Those sounds you associate with a close and important hockey game – the roars for developing chances, the groans when shots slip wide, the gasps when the winning team narrowly escapes – were largely nonexistent. It was a bit like being in a Vegas casino with no clocks. Time just gushes away.
In any case, the U.S. never came especially close to tying the game, and Canada came very close to extending the lead and it was clear, on this day anyway, that there’s still a gap between Canadian and American hockey. Maybe this is as it should be considering how intently Canadian life revolves around the sport (some 80 percent of Canada watched at least part of the 2010 gold medal game).
But it is a blow for a United States still trying to move past the Miracle on Ice. Bylsma made the point after the game that U.S. hockey is at a place now where it hardly needs a miracle to win a gold medal. He’s right, of course. All the U.S. really needs is a couple more goals against Canada. Thing is, that’s the proving to be about as elusive as miracles.
Jul 29, 2014, 5:20 PM EDT
It became Xxx at a passport office, according to the BBC.
Jul 29, 2014, 4:35 PM EDT
Boston is one of four finalist cities for a potential U.S. bid for the 2024 Olympics.
Jul 29, 2014, 3:34 PM EDT
Officials hope to hold test event in late 2015 or early 2016.
Jul 29, 2014, 3:02 PM EDT
Olympic silver medalist speed skater hit his first two professional home runs.
Jul 29, 2014, 11:14 AM EDT
Prince Harry follows the Queen’s lead in Glasgow.
Jul 29, 2014, 10:41 AM EDT
Scottish player pulls off a “wedgie” celebration.
Jul 29, 2014, 10:02 AM EDT
Chika Amalaha may be stripped of her gold after becoming the youngest women’s weightlifting champion in Commonwealth Games history.
Jul 28, 2014, 8:55 PM EDT
Athletes found safe in Beaverton, Ore., after going missing in Eugene.
Jul 28, 2014, 11:01 AM EDT
Nanjing Games open Aug. 16.
Jul 28, 2014, 10:39 AM EDT
Retired Olympic champion took part in Korea Skating Union workshop, according to South Korean media.
Jul 28, 2014, 10:19 AM EDT
Lawrence won gold on the U.S. 4x400m relay team at the 2014 IAAF World Relays.
Jul 28, 2014, 9:32 AM EDT
Neymar played in 2012, but there’s a new obstacle that could keep him out of 2016.
Jul 27, 2014, 6:46 PM EDT
Kerri Walsh Jennings notched a milestone victory.
Jul 27, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Search and rescue crews were on the lookout for Jared Pikus and his three children.
Jul 27, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Kerri Walsh Jennings can hit another career milestone.
Jul 26, 2014, 5:24 PM EDT
U.S. Olympic medalists will face Spanish or Brazilian pair Sunday on NBC.
Jul 26, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings in biggest tournament of 2014 in U.S.
Jul 26, 2014, 10:17 AM EDT
Bolt will make a rare appearance in the heats of a 4x100m relay at Commonwealth Games.
Jul 26, 2014, 9:02 AM EDT
Beijing gold medalist slated for first bout in August.
Jul 25, 2014, 4:07 PM EDT
USOC met with representatives from four finalist cities this week.
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