The Olympics lived up to and exceeded my expectations, especially hockey. Sadly, it’s time to say goodbye. Before we do, let’s recap the last day-and-a-half of bobsledding and hockey.
Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up, its bobsled time! Bobsledders are essentially football players crammed into a little wagon traveling on ice. What’s not to like? The United States’ Four Man Bobsledding team was especially fun to watch and their gold medal ceremony was an awesome moment (seeing a macho man like Steve Holcomb overcome with emotion gave me tingles). Every four years I tune into bobsledding for one reason; Cool Runnings. My love for bobsledding began after seeing the remarkable story of the Jamaican bobsledders. Now, I sit and watch the Olympic Bobsled event for hours. The speed, anxious moments and breathtaking crashes make for intense viewing. NBC commentator John Morgan is fantastic also. He calls each run as if his life depends on whether or not the sled finishes within a certain time. My favorite call of the competition came during the United States’ third run – Seems like a slow track tonight! Oh Man! Look at that time! It’s a slow track!!! I think we’ve got a slower track!! He joins Gus Johnson and Kevin Harlan in my favorite announcers club.
My wife’s thoughts on the 2010 Olympics. After two weeks of competition, this was her favorite moment. She replayed the clip on our DVR several times before it hurt to laugh any more.
U.S Hockey. Ryan Miller won tournament MVP and rightfully so. The United States goaltender carried his team to the gold medal game. He was unbelievable. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen so many times in the NHL playoffs, it was a soft goal that ended his run and gave Canada the gold. Regardless, Miller was the United States’ hero. His performance gave the underdog Americans a shot at the gold medal. My favorite Miller moment came as the United States and Canada shook hands. Every Canadian player stopped to address Miller: Several players offered praises like, “You were amazing” or “Awesome job.” Some didn’t say anything. They simply shook their head and smiled (ultimate respect from an opponent). Despite the admiration, Miller never smiled. Not once. He wasn’t there to earn respect, prove his talent, get showered with accolades, or hear his contemporaries sing his praises. Miller was there for gold. Too many times we see athletes content with how much they accomplished individually even when their team failed. A gold medal was the goal. To Miller, no award or kind word could fill that void. That is the essence of a true champion.
As for the game; what an event. When played at its highest level, hockey is one of the most exciting sports on earth. The skill, speed, and blend of finesse and physicality cannot be matched.
The first ten minutes of the contest was an encouraging start. The United States outworked the more talented Canadians and sustained pressure that led to multiple scoring chances. Playing a gritty style of hockey gave the U.S. their best chance to win. The first twelve minutes proved as much. Unfortunately, a U.S. turnover deep in their own end handed the game’s first goal to Canada and all the momentum as well. Thanks to lazy U.S. back-checking and a fortuitous bounce, the Canadians extended their lead to 2-0 in the second period.
At this point, I’m getting frustrated. We are the United States of America for goodness sake. We invented the upset. The technique isn’t exactly the same as the one G. Dubb (George Washington) employed 235 years ago, but it’s similar, and we own the patent. The key, as always, is to out-grit the opponent. In hockey terms; crash the net, chase loose pucks, outwork, outhustle. Ultimately; want it more. For most of the first period, the United States did this. While they failed to score, they controlled the game and generated more legitimate scoring chances in those 12 minutes then they did in the next 45 minutes combined. The upset formula was working perfectly. Any sports fan knew it would because we’ve seen its effectiveness so many times before. The Giants knocked off the Patriots by hanging around and delivering consistent rib shots to the Patriots’ core (their offense). The 2004 Detroit Pistons defeated the heavily favored Lakers by literally pushing them around. If you’re the underdog and want to win, commit to your style of play and outwork the opponent.
Why did the U.S. change their approach? No idea, probably a combination of frustration and panic. Trailing by two goals to the best hockey team on earth is an understandable reason to press, but changing to finesse passing and trying to create perfect scoring opportunities did not favor the United States. After cutting Canada’s lead in half by throwing the puck at the net and letting their scrappiness create havoc, the United States inexplicably stayed with their finesse game. I was distraught. FINALLY, in the games closing minutes, the United States began firing the puck on goal and attacking. With 24 seconds remaining, Zach Parise tied the game and forced every Canadian to consider alcohol or narcotics.
Like any hockey overtime, the teams traded scoring opportunities until what appeared to be the most harmless threat ended this gold medal thriller. The U.S. took home another silver medal, reminding them once again they’re Canada’s little brother. What’s worse, of the players that were most impressive throughout this game and the entire tournament, none play for my Philadelphia Flyers. What’s “worser”, Sidney Crosby scored the tournament clinching goal. Worst. Case. Scenario. … By far.
(By the way, I had to explain to my wife that every single member of the Canadian team plays for an NHL franchise. She looked more betrayed than the U.S. junior hockey team when they learned Coach Bombay was dating the Iceland assistant. Sad moment.)
As a result of the Olympics, hockey has a great deal of momentum going forward. Hockey discussions can be overheard at sports bars, family events, and the sport has been incessantly referenced on social medal outlets like twitter and facebook. As the past two weeks have demonstrated, the talent and marketability is there for hockey to return to national prominence. The question is, will it? When Gary Bettman decided his league would do better on the Outdoor Life Network than the “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” he crippled hockey’s growth for years. I loved the Olympic tournament. Sadly, it may be the only taste of hockey I get until the 2014 Olympics or until Comcast opens up. Thanks, Gary.