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 28, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Their playoff streak ended after 10 straight appearances.
Aug 28, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Friday’s collection of links.
Aug 27, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
The defenseman had 34 points in 66 OHL games last season.
Aug 27, 2015, 8:58 PM EDT
He might end up with a two-year deal.
Aug 27, 2015, 8:21 PM EDT
He’s entering the final season of his five-year, $22 million deal.
Aug 27, 2015, 6:48 PM EDT
Playoff seeding will be determined by points percentage.
Aug 27, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT
It could prove to be a bargain deal.
Aug 27, 2015, 4:25 PM EDT
The Penguins are a win now team coming off of a quick first round exit.
Aug 27, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT
Can they stay healthy?
Aug 27, 2015, 2:06 PM EDT
“I’m fully aware that at some point in time we may have to address that position.”
Aug 27, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
At which time he’ll be reevaluated.
Aug 27, 2015, 12:17 PM EDT
The two have a bit of a history, as you may recall…
Aug 27, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
It’s a benchmark he’s never hit before.
Aug 27, 2015, 10:52 AM EDT
The 21-year-old looks like he’ll be counted upon heavily.
Aug 27, 2015, 9:48 AM EDT
For a border incident that occurred in mid-June.
Aug 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
A first round exit has led to a busy summer.
Aug 27, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Thursday’s collection of links.
Aug 26, 2015, 9:32 PM EDT
Development coach Patrick Rissmiller is among New Jersey’s latest additions.
Aug 26, 2015, 8:08 PM EDT
His conditioning comes on the ice, not in the weight room.
Aug 26, 2015, 6:40 PM EDT
Two terrible seasons didn’t dissuade fans expecting brighter days ahead.
- Mike Richards charged with possession of controlled substance 91
- Gio won’t go: Flames extend Giordano for six years, $40.5M 13
- Pens’ plan for now: Crosby starts as Kessel’s center 25
- O, Dear: Russia fined $85K for skipping Canadian anthem 28
- Kings ink Ehrhoff to a one-year, $1.5 million deal 27
- Quebec City, Vegas advance to final phase of NHL expansion process 50
- Here’s the full NHL 2015 preseason schedule, starting Sept. 20 5
- Wild assistant Sydor arrested for suspected drunk driving, child endangerment 30
- It’s Montreal Canadiens day at PHT 14
- Capitals’ biggest question: Is this finally the year? 32