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CARLTON PEAK… I am sitting here, staring blankly at the image on my laptop screen. It is of a picture taken of TJ Oshie from directly behind him before he went in to take what would be the shootout winner against Russia in the epic game played just days ago. The photo itself is tremendous, giving the viewer the opportunity to see what Oshie saw before advancing forward to bear down on Russian net minder Sergei Bobrovsky and get the winning tally. I can recall the joy and thrill that the moment brought to me and all other Team USA fans. Little did I know that the moment would probably be amongst the last highlights of the Olympics for Team USA in Ice Hockey.
Sure, I realize that the women’s team got a Silver medal, but in a tourney that basically features only two teams with a shot at a Gold medal, getting the Silver is a bit like finishing last isn’t it? The women dropped a 3-2 tilt to the Canadians in the preliminary round while pretty much walking through all other competition. Likewise for the Canadians in the prelim‘s. In the prelim matchup, the Yanks went up 1-0 in the 2nd, then the Canadians made it 3-1 before the USA got a late marker to make it to the final score. In the Gold Medal game the USA held a 2-0 advantage with less then 4 minutes to go when Canada got on the board. With less then a minute to go they got the equalizer.
Then in a fairly bizarre OT period the Canadians got a penalty, seconds later the officials evened it up with a penalty to Team USA and part way through the penalty kill the Canadians got a breakaway and the skater, perhaps the greatest woman’s player of all time, Hayley Wickenheiser, had her attempt negated by a USA player who was promptly penalized. To be honest Wickenheiser should probably have been awarded a penalty shot but after much debate the USA player, Hilary Knight, was given a cross checking penalty. The Canadians scored on the 2 player advantage and that was it.
The odd thing is that in the run up to this game all I heard was how rough and tough of a game it was going to be and that the refs were going to leave their whistles in their pockets. 12 penalties and a strange ending later I guess they decided to take them out after all. All I can say is that this game and its ending has left me without words. More then 72 hours have passed and I am still feeling fairly empty. Nonetheless, Congrats are in order for both clubs and their players, if nothing else, it was one heck of a show…
On the Men’s side we walked through the prelim’s outside of the nail biter with the Russians, and most observers would have said they thought the USA was playing the best as a team. In the quarters we bested the Czech Republic and Jaromir Jagr 5-2. Then it was time to meet our neighbors in the semis. We were tied with Finland for the tourney scoring lead, we were mid-pack in PP and PK efficiency, and in goaltending. However, Team Canada was ranked 1st in goaltending and in the PK.
In spite of the vibe around Team USA and it’s chances and any statistical analysis everyone thought that it was going to be one heck of a game. For the most part it was. But I’m not certain the Americans were ever in a position to get a win in this game. To sum it up, from my perspective, the Canadians used the extra 15 feet of rink width to keep us out of the house, we probably gave them a little to much respect and played with a bit too much caution. We never really put enough heat on net minder Carey Price to see if we could get to him. We may have played a little too “polite”. The 1-0 final probably was not really that close.
So it was on to the Bronze medal game against Finland and the legendary Teemu Selanne who would be appearing in his final Olympic game ever. We were playing for an object and they were playing for the face of their sport in their country. Never mind the chance for emotional letdown after the Canada loss. But still, you lace them up and go don’t you? We didn’t. And after the Legend got Finland’s first marker I knew the game was over. I just knew it. The final was 5-0. We were leaving Sochi without a medal. I was happy for Teemu, not to mention for the Wild’s Mikael Granlund who by the way, made the all-tournament team. Still, the devastation was all encompassing.
In the aftermath I have been hearing talk and reading quotes that USA Hockey has taken a step backward and so forth, that it needs to re-evaluate everything from top to bottom. My answer to that is are you serious? If you are good you should constantly be evaluating and re-evaluating, but the result we saw is something that could happen to any country in a one off tourney format. Does Canada win every game against us in a series? Does Finland? Believe it or not we are still a World hockey power. We do very well at all levels U-20 and below and our national team had a couple of bad days at the office. Hardly reason to blow everything up. We are now consistently producing some of the highest caliber players in the world and will continue to do so.
In the meantime, I have had some harsh words for our northern neighbors at times. Perhaps they are born out of envy or jealousy, I don’t know. Their attitude about “their game” does wear thin at times. But today I have to say well done. You put the right team together, played the right style and got the result you were hoping for. There are more then a few of your players who, in the NHL, I am a big fan of. So, you got us once again.
Enjoy it now. Because we won’t stop until we are on top. It’s just that simple. Don’t let those words diminish the sincerity of my congratulations to you. Today you are the Champions. Tomorrow? PEACE
Marc Elliott is a free lance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota.