Before we address last night’s U.S.-Canada showdown, a word of hello from the Capitals’ captain to the former Capitals’ quitter, at Olympic center ice, in Super Sunday’s first big game:
Can’t watch that too often, can we? The only way to improve on that Marlboro Man moment would have been if Jagr were still dating a model and Ovi left the rink with her yesterday. Maybe he did.
What a morning to be discussing a monumental triumph by an American hockey team at the Olympics — today of course is the 30th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice. Speaking of the Miracle, it was bizarre to see NBC (Nothing But Curling) run a 30-minute, spectacularly well produced feature on it, hosted by Al Michaels, less than two hours before Team USA faced off against Canada in the most highly anticipated international hockey game in years, only to jettison the broadcast of the game to its hinterland cable partner, MSNBC. Just bizarre.
It was also bizarre to see NBC News treat last night’s game as a mega-event a mere 30 minutes before puck-drop. The game and its fevered anticipation led the very top of the 7:00 NBC Evening News. And on the home page for NBC’s Olympics coverage yesterday afternoon, this headline: “It’s hockey night in Vancouver.” Just bizarre.
If NBC is doing anything right with its hockey coverage of these Games it’s their generously including the analyses and reminiscences of various members of the Miracle on Ice team. Last night Mike Eruzione said of this American Olympics entry: “They’re not a team built on superstars, they’re built on character.” Rizzo knows of what he speaks.
A not so superfluous fashion note: the Americans last night honored our 1960 gold medal winning Olympic team by wearing replicas of their Squaw Valley sweater. Were they gorgeous or what? The last American Olympic hockey team that looked that good was our 1980 squad. This sweater should never ever be replaced so long as the United States fields a hockey team in the Olympics — or in any other international competition, for that matter. Other nations have sent their national teams out in a durable look over decades of competition, and what the Yanks wore last night seemed as natural and classic and durable as Yankee pinstripes.
There’s a powerful moment in ‘Forgotten Miracle’ when American head coach Jack Riley, speaking of his team’s startling upset of Canada at Squaw Valley, says of his goaltender, Jack McCartan, “No goalie ever played as well as McCartan played that night.” Jack Riley no doubt was watching last night’s game, and if he wasn’t ready to acknowledge Ryan Miller’s playing the best game an American goalie ever has in the Olympics — 42 saves of 45 Canadian shots, many of them of the high, high quality variety — we bet he might put Miller’s effort at a 1B to McCartan’s 1A.
Canada of course badly outshot the U.S., 45 to 23, and thoroughly controlled the first two periods of play. But the Americans for once had the better netminder, and they managed to out-physical the big Canadians. The Americans utilized their strong team speed to create an effective forecheck, which caused numerous turnovers by Canadian rearguards, particularly in the first period. American forecheckers had Canada rattled enough in their own end that Martin Brodeur may have developed distrust in his defenders; how else to explain his outlandishly poor judgment in attempting to fungo bat a puck out of his own end and onto the blade of Brian Rafalski, who subsequently put it in the back of the Canadian cage.
Has there been a better player in this tournament thus far than Rafalski?
The Americans played a disciplined game — they were whistled for a lone infraction through the game’s first 40 minutes. As much puck possession as Canada enjoyed, imagine if they’d had more ice and shooting lanes to work with in those first two periods. Excessive penalty killing necessarily carries a wearying effect, and in Sunday night’s final frantic minutes, when the Canadians sustained pressure in the offensive zone as if the Americans were defending without sticks, the Americans had lively legs, effectively getting into many shooting lanes and battling beautifully for loose pucks.
Did we say battling beautifully for loose pucks? Ryan Kesler’s empty net effort was iconic. A tally for American hockey lore. Like John Carlson’s last month.
The selection of Chris Drury for this American Olympic team occasioned no small volume of second guessing/criticism, but all of that has quickly silenced with his play through the first three games for the Americans. Already we are hearing commentators and analysts heap praise on Brian Burke and his American general manager brain-trust for assembling not the most talented group of Americans but “the right group.” A character group. When did you last hear that said of an American hockey entry at an Olympics? And how did they turn out? Just sayin. Incidentally, we’ve seen nowhere near the best from impact players Zach Parise, Patrick Kane, and Phil Kessel.
Speaking of Brian Burke, his agony this month — he lost his 21-year-old son Brendan in a car accident in snowy Indiana on February 5 — is unimaginable; may he and his family have found a few hours of respite in last night’s celebratory postgame.
Another sage observation from ‘Forgotten Miracle’: “A hot goalie at the right time can make the difference between a mediocre team and an Olympic gold medal victory team.”
Hey, so who won the ice dancing competition anyway?