Saturday, February 27, 2010

USA Hockey and The Resonators Looking for Another Miracle

United States 5 Finland 2.

I'm writing this at 2:45pm on Friday, February 26th, 2010.  15 minutes before Team USA plays for the chance to go for the Gold Medal in Men's Ice Hockey against Canada...Yes, I will probably change the score above if I am WAY off base, but if it's close, I'll keep it like that.  If it can beat Finland in the Semi-finals, the U.S. Men's Hockey Team will reach the Gold Medal game, presumably against our hated Northern neighbor, the Canadians.

I've jumped on the bandwagon this time.  Like 2002 and 1980 before it, the 2010 U.S. Hockey team is again capturing the hearts and minds of sports fans.   The U.S. Team this year was too young and inexperienced, they said, and it was given very little chance to succeed in Vancouver, particularly in contrast to the stronger national teams coming out of Canada, Sweden and Russia.  Instead, Team USA has become one of the best stories coming out of the 2010 Winter Olympics for the United States, as many of its top athletes have faltered or failed to live up to expectations.  After a stirring 5-3 victory over the Canadians in group play last week, Team USA has picked up where the bicker sisters Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso and the underachieving Apolo Ohno and Women's figure skating left off.

3pm.  The First Period begins with Mike Emrick and Eddie Olczyk setting the scene.  Finland, Team USA's opponent, has been very stingy on defense and making the most out of the few scoring opportunities it received.  The Americans have also been playing very well through group play.  The "sideline" reporter, obviously very Canadian, described Team USA as looking a little tight in warmups.  I'll remember that when we see you on Sunday buddy.  About five minutes in, Phil Kessel hustles after a loose puck slowly heading toward the Finnish goalie Miikka Kiprosoff.  Bruins fans are cheering for Kessel for the first time in years, happy that he is finally skating with some passion.  Apparantly, Kiprosoff wasn't expecting this hustle by Kessel either as he gingerly passes the puck to a nearby Finnish teammate who skates by it, only to be picked up by Ryan Malone for what amounts to an empty net goal.  Interestingly enough, Kessel stands by the goal trying to tip it in even though it was clearly going to be goal...Oh Phil.

The high fives in the JMR household continue as Team USA scores five more goals in the span of 15 minutes of play.  "The United States is really good in this game," my seven year old exclaims, ostensibly comparing this team to Team USA in one of his EA Sports video game.  I predicted five goals, and they are scored with 7 minutes left in the First Period.

In 1980, similar to the 2010 team, the Americans were too young and inexperienced to win a medal, much less beat a formidable Soviet team (a team that it lost to a month before 10-3 in a blow out in New York City). After achieving a miraculous tie with Team Sweden to even have a chance in the medal round, Team USA headed into the semifinal game against the Soviets as underdogs.  ABC, realizing the importance of this game, tape delayed it so it could be watched by millions later that night.  We all know the details of this game and how important it was to the American Psyche.  The U.S. was in economic doldrums, and the cold war was brewing to a boil with the U.S.S.R.  Looking back on it, we needed to win this game.  After this stirring win, Americans were able to rejoice if even for only a couple of moments.

The Second Period is much less of a one sided affair.  The teams skate to a scoreless period, but at least the Finns don't look like they are playing continuously shorthanded.  After the Second Period, Team USA is still leading 6-0.  The only thing of interest is finally realizing that the game is being played in "real time" with limited commercial interruption.  Thank you, Subway!

While still being classified as an also-ran, the 2002 Olympic Hockey team had old age as an excuse rather than youth and inexperience.  Led by older (and some would say washed up) stars such as Brett Hull, Mike Richter, Chris Chelios and Brian Leetch, Team USA was destined to finish 5th in the tournament, a finish not unlike their 1998 finish.  Could the 1980 Olympic team, who lit the torch to start the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games, inspire a new generation of Olympians?  The Gold Medal game between the Canadians and the U.S. was the highest rated hockey game in generations.  Americans, still reeling from 9/11 and the economic turmoil that followed were again buoyed by Team U.S.A.'s strong run toward the medal round and were as much stirred by some run of the mill hockey players.  Unfortunately, we had to settle for the Silver Medal in these games as those hated Canadians took the Gold away from us.  Cheaters.

The Third Period displayed a lot of the same characteristics as the Second Period.  Some chippy play by the Finns, together with some outstanding goaltending by the Americans, confirmed the 6-0 score.  Unfortunately, Team USA's second straight shutout was thwarted by the insertion of Tim Thomas as goalie.  This is not 2008-09 unfortunately.  Relegated the back up status, Thomas showed his rust giving up a goal on just a handful of shots.  Still Team USA won 6-1 to face off against Canada or Slovakia in the Gold Medal game on Sunday afternoon.

Not a coincidence, the 2010 version of Team USA is playing along a backdrop of tough economic times and unfortunate status as a non-factor.  Playing against seemingly stronger rivals, Team USA has shown a lot of grit and determination in going through to the final game without a blemish.  Things have been tough for all of us, and we're again in a position that, forget about wanting our guys to win, we NEED our guys to win.  If we can just forget about our problems for a couple of moments...

I remember a story about Al Michaels agreeing to voice over his play by play of the 1980 U.S.A-U.S.S.R. game for the Kurt Russell Schmaltzfest, Miracle on Ice.  He agreed on one condition, he would never repeat those famous words again "Do you believe in miracles?  YES!"  I agree that it wouldn't be a miracle this time around, but I wouldn'tmind hearing those same words come from Michaels' mouth as 1980 team was running out the clock against Finland in the Gold Medal game.

"five seconds to the gold medal, four seconds, three seconds, an American Dream come true."

Here's hoping I hear Al Michaels on Sunday.

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