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THE FAR SIDE OF THE POND: Saving the Best for Last

03/11/2010 6:15 PM

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By Chad Huebner

As I wrote the last time, I don’t really remember much of “The Miracle.” I do remember watching the gold medal game in the 2002 Olympics and thinking “Gee, even with Herbie as head coach again, we still can’t beat the Canucks.”

Up to that point, our record against Canada in Olympic play was 0-5-1. That of course changed Sunday, Feb. 21 in one of the best hockey games, and certainly one of the best Olympic hockey games I’ve ever seen. At the time, I figured things couldn’t get much better for the U.S., because if they played again in the gold medal match, we wouldn’t stand a chance. There would be too much mojo, too much angry energy (exhibited by the Canadians in their 15 goals scored in the next two games) on the Canadian side to see this fail. They took the loss hard, but it was merely a detour on the road to the ultimate prize, a chance for them to step up their game even if they had to face the Russians along the way. The Americans were enjoying the best of both scenarios in the Olympics up to that point: all of the benefits competing in a very familiar, English-speaking environment without most of the pressure that comes from playing in front of a hometown crowd. That changed last Sunday when all you could see on crisp, clear HD was a sea of red. You have to hand it to Canadian fans: when they show their colors, they do it in the biggest way possible with nearly everyone wearing the jerseys of their favorite team (something I’ve seen when watching Calgary Flame home games where nearly every fan is decked out in some version of a Flames sweater). NBC didn’t manage to provide the decibel levels when the fans roared after every Canadian goal, but I would imagine you’d see readings in the 120-150 level (which is categorized as “threshold of pain” to “jet engine”).

For me, it was the best Olympic hockey game I’ve ever seen. Period. Duh.

Too bad I couldn’t see it live.

For a Valentine’s Day gift, my girlfriend bought tickets for a Chicago Wolves home game. I guess I should’ve checked the Olympic hockey schedule before I picked the Feb. 28 game against the Rockford IceHogs. But even if I did look at the schedule, I probably wouldn’t have imagined the American team getting that far. The Canadians, Russians and defending Olympic champs, the Swedes, were all the favorites, with even Slovakia thrown in as a dark horse candidate. Who would’ve thought a team, though talented, being full of first-time Olympians, would make it that far?

I started to panic when the Americans won the first go-around with the Canadians. They set themselves up for an easy road to the finals. I kept hoping the Wolves would change the time of the 3pm start to earlier or later when the Americans soundly beaten the Finns on Friday. It’s the Americans vs. Canadians in a game that could rival “The Miracle”, right? No dice. Kept checking over the weekend. Still no change.

So I just taped the game, and hoped that I wouldn’t receive any game updates at all.

At a hockey game.

With over 8,000 people, most of whom with access to the ‘net on their phones and Blackberrys.


But I almost made it thru the entire Wolves game without getting any sort of score update on the gold medal, which is almost a “miracle” itself. They made the announcement that they would be flashing scores of the game as well as other AHL games, but I didn’t see anything dealing with U.S.A. or Canada. (Besides, I probably wouldn’t have to look; the sound from the crowd would have given it away, good or ill.) No, all it took was some guy behind me on his phone getting a score of 2-2 late in the third, Zach Parise with a few seconds left, to kinda ruin the moment.

Still, I managed to make it home without actually finding out the final score. But as we were driving from the Wolves game, I think we would have expected some sort of notice from someone either whooping it up or honking their horns-something akin to what happened in 1980-that the U.S. won.

And then I watched the great game and realized, hey, I didn’t miss too much with the ending.

Both sides poured their hearts and souls into this game. You could tell by the way the U.S. looked after the game, sad faces as heavy with emotion as the silver, warped potato chips they were going to receive in the medal ceremony (sorry, but those medals looked bad, like a CD you accidentally left on the car dashboard on a sunny day). You could also tell the relief and elation (mostly relief) on the expressions of the Canadian team, knowing that it was this close from turning Mission Accomplished into Tragic Failure.

You couldn’t script it any better with Sid the Kid scoring the winning goal. You just couldn’t.

We the hockey fans of the United States can take some consolation that we did, in fact, win some sort of medal (though a strong argument could be made for Ryan Miller to also receive the gold for his efforts-or maybe at least the “platinum” that figure skater Evgeni Plushenko was touting on his personal website). More importantly is the fact that this young team could stay largely intact four years from now.

Then again, the same argument could be made for the Canadian side. But I guess we’ll have to live through another dramatic and spectacular end to those games in 2014. And maybe next time around, I’ll be able to watch the game live.

But then, as soon as the game was over, the Games were over. Not much of a layoff between the end of the Olympics and the start of the last quarter of the NHL season, but eh, what are you going to do? It just means more hockey for us fans to watch, consternation for the GMs and higher-ups of each organ-I-zation, and a lifetime of memories for the Olympic participants.

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