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THE FAR SIDE OF THE POND: Not “The Miracle II”, Call This one “The Stunner”

02/23/2010 1:48 PM - By Chad Huebner

I was around for the “Miracle on Ice,” it’s just that I don’t remember any of it. Most likely, since I was seven at the time, the game was past my bedtime. Now I do remember watching the gold medal game, when we beat the Finns, and I also remember the significance of the whole thing, but that was about it.

ESPN Classic showed the U.S.-USSR game in its entirety on the 25th anniversary of the event, and I have to honestly say, I’ve seen better games played. Yes, there was more puck control by the Russians, but other than that, I wouldn’t think half of those goals would have been scored had the game been played today.

But if I did remember seeing the Miracle as it happened, I could probably compare it to the feelings/expectations of the U.S.-Canada tilt. Both times the Americans were the huge, HUGE underdogs. Both times the teams they faced were considered the best in the world. Both times there was a lot of pressure on the opposing team to win, because it was expected of them and their respective countries lived and died by stuff like this.

(I hate to interrupt this column, but I guess I should get up on my soap box over the fact that the U.S.-Canada game was NOT televised on regular TV. Once again, the network wags went with numbers than reality in thinking that since ice dancing-seriously, ice dancing-draws more people than, oh, say, a hockey game that has nationalistic pride riding on the line. Besides, it was only Day 2 of the three-day ice dancing competition, so they wouldn’t be competing for a medal that night. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this. After all, wasn’t “The Miracle” shown tape-delayed? And now NBC is reporting losing hundreds of millions of dollars over these Olympics. Gee, I wonder why. We now resume this column currently being written. Thank you.)

You can argue that the talent level of the U.S. has grown in leaps and bounds in the 30 years since the Miracle, and I would gladly support you on that point. But still, the team that played Sunday was young, and very much not experienced in Olympic play. If there was an All-Star Game played with these same two lineups, it would probably look like a “Youngsters vs. the Pros” matchup. Only three skaters had prior Olympic experience, with one of them, Brian Rafalski, the “old man” on the team at 36, the big factor with his 2 goals.

That first one he scored, man oh man! That really turned the game on its head and probably really delivered a bit of a stomach punch to the Canadians. Here they were, coming into this game stumbling a bit after having to beat the Swiss in a shootout, and now, against these young punks, they were already down less than a minute into the game?

Well, we were all bracing for the onslaught, and while the Canadians came out shooting, they could never overtake the Americans. You felt had that happened at some point that if the score was tied and Canada scored the go-ahead goal that was it, game over. Yet because of something, that never happened.

Scratch that, we know what, or really, who that “something” was. It was a 29-year-old goalie from East Lansing, MI, that was drafted in the fifth round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres. When all is said and done with Ryan Miller’s career, even he might have a shot at beating some of the records that the person he was facing in the Canadian net had already established. Rarer still to see below-average goaltending by someone who will probably be christened as the greatest goalie of all time when he puts the pads away.
Let’s face it, Martin Brodeur will end up being called The Greatest Goalie of All Time when it’s all said and done, but right now, this moment, he isn’t that good to compete on the Olympic level. Athletes tell you that no matter how good you are, or how good you play your sport, the Olympics requires a higher level of playing. Maybe Brodeur doesn’t look as old as his 37 years when it comes to NHL play, but on Sunday, he looked. . . ordinary. At least one of the goals, a deflection off of a deflection, wasn’t his fault, but I dunno, the rest of them looked like they could’ve been stopped by a competent netminder. It’s sad to say all of this about him-after all, he did lead the Canadians all the way to gold back in 2002-but maybe it’s time for another guy to step in and see what he can do.

You know the guy who normally plays his games in the same city, at the same arena, as these Olympics are held.

It’s not like the Canadians could blow their game to the Germans with Roberto Luongo in net. Maybe this is the passing of the torch, from one goalie to another. Brodeur took over when Curtis Joseph couldn’t get it done; now it’s Brodeur to Luongo.

As for Miller, here’s a guy who has elevated his game on the biggest stage of his young career. He doesn’t seem fazed by all the pressure, all the hoopla surrounding such games. The closest he’s been to a major championship was in 2006, when the Sabres lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals. It didn’t matter that the U.S. defense was almost non-existent at times; he almost seemed to thrive on the adversity. He is clearly the best American goalie, if not the best goalie of these Olympics so far.

But there is still much work to be done. The Americans and Canadians are not guaranteed medals just yet. One road is easier than the other, but expect both teams to be playing at their absolute best from here on out. And who knows? We might have a redux of 2002 all over again.

Better yet, we might have a moment that tops what happened 30 years ago. At least this time around, I should be awake for it.

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