Monday, March 1, 2010

US v Canada and other thoughts on hockey

Hockey grabbed the front page of sports life here in the US as they beat Canada in the group stage to setup a great run to the gold medal game.  While they lost 3-2 in sudden death overtime - the best OT in all of sports by the way - I feel proud to be an American today.  Yeah, it would've been nice to win that game.  Yeah, this is America so we only really celebrate champions.  And I realize that the greatest moment in US sports history is a hockey moment - the 1980 Miracle on Ice.  (Yes, its even better than the 1950 World Cup win over England on the greatest moment scale since we didn't follow it up with a championship).  But, while the 2010 edition won't be remembered in nearly the same breath, I must applaud their effort.  Ryan Miller was rightfully cheered by the Canadians as he was indeed the tournament MVP.

You gotta realize that we were playing an all-star Canadian hockey team.  They had such star power that maybe 1 or 2 players from the US squad would even have a chance to make theirs.  This is Canada's national sport.  4 million people tuned in just to see who made the team.  I couldn't have named 2 players from our team 1 week ago.  Canada's national identity rode on the outcome of this game.  And don't forget, last week, we beat them with guts and effort, and yesterday, we made up a 2 goal deficit, including Parise's goal with 24 seconds to go.  It took the best player on the planet to score a sudden death goal to clinch gold for them.

Bob Costas said that it could be the greatest moment in Canadian sport's history.  I was shocked to hear that.  Just shocked.  Can you imagine someone proclaiming a USA basketball gold medal a great moment in US sports history, much less the greatest moment?  I don't think so.

Why would any Canadian take that much pride in this victory?  Sure, it was won on home ice by their greatest player - a great moment to be sure, but the greatest?  They were supposed to win.  And don't forget, every Canadian kid out there wants to play hockey for Canada.  The American hockey players are the white guys who didn't play football or baseball or basketball AND live in the the cold, northern cities.  Canada was celebrating the fact that they beat the vastly underdog Americans who are playing on hostile ice?  They should be embarrassed they lost to us the first time.  They should be relieved, not overjoyed.  Also, don't forget, they won just 2 Olympics ago on US ice, after decades of defeat.  That seems like it should be a bigger day.

Honestly, this is the equivalent of Americans barely beating Canada in the World Cup of American football in OT on a Peyton Manning TD in Cowboy Stadium.  Yay.

So did this game ignite US interest in hockey?  Only time will tell, but it will difficult since the NHL is on some obscure cable channel that many don't get.  I certainly appreciate the game and the skill it requires to excel.  Also, I'd say that hockey players are generally regarded as the nicest athletes to their fans. Baseball players are jerks, basketball players are primadonnas and football players are somewhere in between. But hockey players seem to be mostly well-adjusted and modest on the athlete ego scale. Them and golfers.  I've met many athletes in my time but one of the nicest, most down to earth athlete I've ever met is hockey enforcer, Marty McSorley.  (The other stand-up guys are Mark Gubicza and AC Green.)  Yeah, the dude that did this:

He was suspended for whacking another player in the head with his stick and suspended for 23 games, which ended his career.  He was also charged for assault and served 18 months probation.  I didn't know what he'd be like but he was surprisingly ... no ... shockingly sincere, kind and paid attention to even the little people (interns, PAs) at Foxsports where I used to work.  Maybe he was trying to make up for what he did.  Or maybe off the ice, he's just a nice guy.  Either way, I'll never have a bad thing to say about the guy.

As for the game of hockey, I definitely like attending games because of the breathtaking speed and skill of the players.  It is a lot more difficult to watch on TV though.  Without seeing the lightning speed of the players in person or hearing the swoosh of the skates, it just isn't the same.  I used to joke that if the score was tied in the 3rd period of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, then maybe, just maybe I'd watch.

I probably won't ever be passionate about the game.  I didn't grow up watching it and I can't even skate.  It doesn't help that the best players in the world aren't even American.  And only 1 significant tournament for national teams every 4 years can't sustain my interest.  Soccer at least has national friendly games all the time and important tournaments or qualifier games every year.  Maybe if US hockey had that, I would follow them.  All that to say, I've got too many other sports I'd rather follow.

Ultimately, the Canadians might remember Crosby's goal forever, but in a couple weeks, most Americans are going to think Ryan Miller is a point guard on a Valparaiso or Gonzaga who might pull off a Sweet 16 run.

Still, I do think that its interesting that US' greatest sports moment was in hockey.  As much as worldwide dominance makes us feel good about ourselves, deep down we really love the underdogs.

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