Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 02/28/10 at 12:11 PM ET
On this, the 50th anniversary of the day when the USA won its first Olympic gold medal in men’s ice hockey, it will have a chance to win its third. Prior to 1988, the tournament format was like a modified Swiss pairing system that competitive Scrabble players and chess players are familiar with, so there wasn’t the excitement of a do-or-die gold medal game like there is today. Despite the pre-tournament ratings, USA isn’t nearly as much of an underdog as they were in 1960 or 1980, so it won’t be a “miracle” if they can pull off the win. In those ways, this tournament is very different from the other two in which America won gold.
This is very much the same, though, in that, unlike our Canadian friends, Team USA will be quite pleased with silver.
Before this tournament started, there was a lot of talk about two things. First was that USA wasn’t expected to be in the running for any medal of any color, let alone gold. By most realistic forecasts, they were picked to finish fifth behind (in any order) Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland. Unlike the silver medal winning team from the 2002 Salt Lake games, this team is mostly young guys. Some of them have no experience representing the USA at any level. They might not have the name recognition that the Canadian guys have. Even the hockey media has a hard time picking them out of a lineup. Nevertheless, they all definitely deserve to be there. They’ve performed quite well and have situated themselves in a position to fight for gold. Sure, it’s been a surprise, but it’s been no miracle. If they win gold, it’ll be a great accomplishment. A heroic accomplishment. Not a miracle. If they win silver, they’ll leave with their heads high, and they’ll still be considered heroes.
On the other hand, the talk in Canada has been quite different. Months before the games began, months before the teams were selected, there was a lot of talk about “gold or bust”. They said all along that it didn’t matter how many medals the other Canadian athletes won. The only thing that mattered was that they win gold in men’s hockey. Anything else, they said, would be an unmitigated failure. What would be worse than losing, though, would be losing to the Americans. On Canadian soil.
Of course both teams will have the attitude of “losing is not an option” when they hit the ice this afternoon, but the wake of a USA loss would be far less choppy than that of a Canada loss.
I’ve been bemoaning the early start times for this entire tournament. With the exception of last Sunday’s USA-Canada game, the USA has played all of its games at noon local time, 3:00 my time. It’s not only inconvenient for fans, but it’s disruptive to the players, who are unaccustomed to playing that early. Of course those players who are from the Pittsburgh Penguins play on NBC every Saturday afternoon, so they’re used to it. But everyone else has a game-day routine that gets all messed up when there isn’t a morning skate and a nap and a lunch and whatever else they do. This might play to USA’s advantage. They’ve played four games at noon local time, while Canada’s games have always been 4:00 or later. It probably won’t be much of a difference-maker, but you never know.
The other advantage that the USA will have is that they are technically the “home” team. Sure, the crowd will be against them, but as the home team, they get the last change and the matchups they want. This might make a bigger difference.
No matter what happens, this should be a great game and it should get some extraordinary teevee ratings.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.