Monday marks 30 years since the Miracle on Ice happened in Lake Placid, and we’ll never, ever see anything like that again, at least not from an American team as long as pros are allowed in the Olympics. At the end of the day, for all the talk of stacked Canadian and Russian rosters and inexperienced Americans, our national team is just another collection of professionals, full of guys who will play on teams and on lines with those Canadians and Russians mere days from now when the NHL schedule resumes. These aren’t college kids beating the unbeatable Soviets. But in this era of NHL involvement in the Winter Games, tonight’s 5–3 American upset over the Canadians on their very own Vancouver ice might be as close as we get.
It can be said without hesitation now: The United States team is for real. And this can be said without hesitation, too: The hockey played Sunday night — and during the Russia–Czech Republic game earlier in the day, and during this whole tournament for that matter — is some of the best you’ll ever see.
To the particulars of the U.S.-Canada game: We hope NBC schedules a nice time slot each night for the extended apology that intermission analyst Jeremy Roenick owes to Chris Drury, whom he didn’t believe should even be on this team. Drury, of course, scored his second goal in three games tonight, in addition to providing his usual stellar penalty killing. It’s both satisfying and frustrating to watch Drury play this well, knowing how much he’s underachieved this season while wearing a Rangers jersey, and how infrequently he’s lived up to that “clutch” label. More satisfying than frustrating, though.
And really, it’s only logical that the key to this game, offensively speaking at least, were the three Americans with previous Olympic experience: Drury, Brian Rafalski (who scored two massively important goals in the first period), and Martin Brodeur’s Devils teammate Jamie Langenbrunner (who scored what turned out to be the game winner). Not to take away from what Joe Pavelski and Phil Kessel and Ryan Kesler and all the other young players on this team have done so far, but without the three veterans (and goalie Ryan Miller), the nation of Canada isn’t having a collective coronary today.
Speaking of Canada, you have to wonder if Mike Babcock will continue to go with Brodeur in goal, especially with Vancouver Canuck Roberto Luongo sitting on the bench with the team’s only regulation victory in these Olympics. Assuming they can get past the sting of losing to the United States for the first time since 1960, the Canadians aren’t out of this tournament yet: They didn’t get a bye to the quarterfinals like the Americans did, but they’ll just need to beat a weak German team Tuesday to get there. (They’d play Russia in the quarters.) They may have only gotten one of the two goals they needed to tie the score, but Canada showed in the last few minutes tonight how dangerous a team they can be.
We’re not sure any team can match the leaping-into-the-boards enthusiasm of the Russian squad, but the Americans came pretty close tonight. The extra day off they earned gives them some much-deserved extra rest, but it also gives them an additional day to come down from this win. They need it, and so do we.