Feb 21, 2014, 6:35 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.*
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.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:40 AM EDT
Or until a successor is found.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:01 AM EDT
The 23-year-old defenseman may get a real shot this season.
Aug 21, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
They were teammates in Calgary for two seasons.
Aug 21, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
The pressure is on Sid and Geno now after a summer of change.
Aug 20, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
And it was all The Great One’s idea.
Aug 20, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
He can be an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Aug 20, 2014, 9:02 PM EDT
Recovery from offseason wrist surgery put things in doubt.
Aug 20, 2014, 7:55 PM EDT
He missed most of last season with a torn ACL.
Aug 20, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT
Giroux and Voracek will need someone new to run with them.
Aug 20, 2014, 5:46 PM EDT
Patrick Marleau can coach him through it.
Aug 20, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
It’s not as good to be the worst anymore.
Aug 20, 2014, 2:54 PM EDT
No real surprise here.
Aug 20, 2014, 1:55 PM EDT
How will he handle the weight of expectation?
Aug 20, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT
Another dramatic development.
Aug 20, 2014, 12:23 PM EDT
“I’m confident in myself and confident I can get back to where I used to be.”
Aug 20, 2014, 11:18 AM EDT
He’ll be reunited with former Boston College teammate Chris Kreider in New York.
Aug 20, 2014, 11:05 AM EDT
The college star could push to make Philly’s blue line right away.
Aug 20, 2014, 10:01 AM EDT
And assigned to a U.S. District Judge in Minnesota.
Aug 20, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
It’s OK Alex, Claude Noel is gone now.
Aug 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
They hope to improve on their first round loss to the Rangers.
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