By Bobby Holt
Well, not quite, but the United States Men’s Hockey Team certainly came close. They defeated Norway, Canada, Switzerland and Finland on their road to the Gold Medal game where they would face Canada again. Coming into this Olympics, Team USA had not defeated Team Canada since 1960. After an extremely exciting game, USA skated to an improbable 5-3 victory and had a chance to clinch the number one seed in the tournament. With a little help from Sweden, they did just that.
The number one seed was crucial because it meant that USA would play the winner of a much weaker Switzerland-Belarus game. With an extra day to rest, the Americans barely squeaked by Switzerland, 2-0. Going into the semifinals, the United States had to play a tough Finland team, comprised of many NHL All-Stars. However, it seemed as though the Americans could not be stopped and they handily defeated Team Finland 6-1 (with all six goals coming in the first period). The only thing that stood in their way of clinching Olympic gold was the winner of Canada-Slovakia.
After a thrilling 3-2 victory by the Canadians, it was settled; Team USA would face off against Team Canada in a sure-to-be instant classic. It certainly lived up to the hype and did not disappoint. The Canadians were outplayed at the start of game, but that quickly changed when Canada scored two quick goals to take an early 2-0 lead. However, the Americans were not ready to give up, they scored two of their own, with the second goal coming with only a few seconds left in the third. Heading into overtime, it was clear that this game might be one of the best games of all time. After a back-and-forth first five minutes, Sidney Crosby was able to slide the puck between USA goalie Ryan Miller’s legs and give Canada the gold medal. Despite the obvious disappointment on the faces of the Americans, what they accomplished was special, even if it wasn’t a gold medal.
What made the Americans’ run so special was that they were not even predicted to place in the top three and earn a medal. Canada, Russia and Sweden were the favorites for the Gold, Silver and Bronze, respectively. With Team USA not winning gold since the magical 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid, or silver since the 2002 Olympics, any medal would have been a surprise.
Now what does this mean for USA hockey going forward? Of course, the Canadians will have a ton of talent for years to come, but the Americans are young, very young. In fact, with an average age of 26.5, they were the youngest team in this Olympics. Now to build off of that, the Americans’ World Juniors team defeated a very talented Canadian team in January at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. The Junior team snapped Canada’s streak of five straight gold medals and won only the second gold for the Americans in the tournament’s history. Combine that with the already very young Olympic team and USA hockey has a bright outlook for many years to come.