Thirty years ago, Team USA jubilantly gave Americans reason to believe. Sunday, it silenced a nation.
No medals were awarded following the United States’ surprise 5-3 victory against Canada, but Ryan Miller and the Americans looked plain golden. It was the type of game that could turn casual hockey observers into die-hard fans, and die-hards into pucking addicts. Forget it was the preliminary round, and forget these two teams could meet again deeper in the medal round.
Sunday’s game shoved hockey into the spotlight for a country commonly viewed as the silver medalist in a two-nation rivalry.
The Americans hadn’t beaten Canada during Olympic play in 50 years, but Sunday it took Team USA a mere 41 seconds to strike. Brian Rafalski slapped one off the stick of Sidney Crosby and past Martin Brodeur for a 1-0 lead. Even after Eric Staal deflected a Brent Seabrook shot past Miller to tie the game, only 22 seconds elapsed before Rafalski answered to once again put the Americans ahead.
When the Canadians seemed destined to gain control of the contest by dominating the first half of the second period and tied the game on Dany Heatley’s goal, Miller took control. The former Michigan State Spartan turned away chance after chance from Canada on his way to 42 saves on the night. The shot total heavily favored Canada (45-23), and without Miller the scoreboard could have looked a lot different.
On a team filled with young stars, the savvy veterans fittingly put Team USA in the driver seat late in the game. Chris Drury netted a goal after a mad scramble for a loose puck in front of Brodeur, then 34-year-old captain Jamie Langenbrunner deflected a Rafalski shot with his skate to put the Americans ahead 4-2.
After Crosby pulled Canada within 4-3 on a power-play goal with 3:09 remaining, Mike Babcock pulled Brodeur and Ryan Kessler sprawled out and knocked a loose puck into the empty net for the final margin.
If you’re one of the NHL worry-warts who cringe each time one of your team’s stars takes a hit, the scene after Kessler’s goal proved these Olympians are competing their hardest to win for their country. Stop worrying and just enjoy it.
The Americans tackled each other and rolled on the ice like little kids. It was a true snapshot into the passion these players possess for hockey, and a look into the roots of each Team USA player. Think Sunday’s game meant something to them? Put your level of importance on it, then multiply it by roughly 50 million. The math may not even put you in the same universe with theirs.
There’s a long way to go, three more games to be won and most of the world standing between the United States and a hockey gold medal. While Canada stews over a loss at the hands of its little brothers to the south, Sunday’s victory will be enjoyed thoroughly by American hockey fans — both old and new.
Notes on Blackhawks Olympians:
Patrick Kane: Didn’t factor much into the victory; one shot in 16:20 of ice time.
Jonathan Toews: Stellar in the loss for Canada, playing terrifically on both ends of the ice; two assists, plus-2, 14:26 TOI.
Duncan Keith: Played up to his Norris Trophy-winning potential; 24:05 TOI, plus-2, assist.
Brent Seabrook: Hasn’t played much these Olympics, but had an assist tonight in 8:02 of action.
Eddie Olczyk: Blackhawks and NBC hockey color man actually said what I wrote in the headline. No, I’m not kidding. He really did.