Where were you when Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller changed the landscape of the 2010 Olympic hockey tournament?
It’s a serious question. Three days after the U.S. beat Canada in what has been falsely dubbed “Miracle on Ice II,” perspective has been lost in how badly the Hiller-led Swiss altered the field.
Last Thursday, Switzerland took Canada past regulation before bowing out in a shootout. Following extra shooters, the Canadians escaped. Or did they?
In Olympic hockey, a regulation win earns a team three points. A win after regulation only nets it two. Hiller’s 45-save performance and the U.S. upset of Canada worked in melody to disrupt the route of the world hockey powers.
If Canada earned one extra point—whether by beating the Americans or beating the Swiss in regulation—it would have edged Finland in the goal differential tiebreaker and earned the No. 4 seed and a bye to the quarterfinals.
Now? The top two teams—Russia and Canada—will square off in the quarterfinals after Canada beat Germany today. Only one of the two will win a medal, and Hiller is to blame.
U.S. goalie Ryan Miller stole the show Sunday night in Vancouver. His 42-save win against a stronger and faster Canadian team is not nearly as big as the 1980 U.S. win against the Soviets, but it’s the biggest win for the U.S. since then.
The Americans have historically fared poorly on the international stage. They have won just two world championships, a yearly tournament which coincides with the NHL playoffs, in its history (1933, 1960). In Olympic play, the team has two medals (1980 gold, 2002 silver) in the last 30 years.
The win against Canada was not a medal game, but the U.S. had not beaten the Canadians since 1960, one of the two years it won gold. The significance lies in that it allows the Americans to avoid Canada, Russia, and defending gold medalists Sweden until the championship game, if they can get there. They play Switzerland today and, if they win, the Fins or the Czech Republic/Latvia winner in the semis.
The only other international success for the U.S. was when it won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, one of two times the event took place.
And if coach Ron Wilson can hang his hat on one thing in his career, it’s this: he led that team to the gold.
But the 2010 American Olympians represent new blood. No longer is Mike Richter the goalie. No longer are Tony Amonte, Doug Weight, Chris Chelios, Mike Modano, and Keith Tkachuk the face of the team.
Just two players reside on the American roster that played in the 2006 games—Brian Rafalski and Chris Drury. Contrarily, the Canadians have eight returnees.
And despite being physically punished and outskated, the Americans played a more desperate brand of hockey Sunday. They blocked shots, held off the Canadians and cashed in on mistakes.
Canada’s Corey Perry was retrieving a puck in his own zone with his goalie pulled, down one in the game’s final minute.
American Ryan Kessler, who plays for Vancouver, dove from behind him and swatted the puck with one hand on his stick around Perry and into the open net.
It was one of the most effort-laden empty-net goals you will ever see. It put the dagger in Canada on Sunday, and it cemented a new era of U.S. hockey and the easiest possible path to gold.
Now, expectations have risen. But don’t forget how Hiller altered the tournament and how he can alter it more.
For the dream to stay alive, the Americans have to beat him again. It’s a taller task than what was originally thought.
Just ask the Canadians.
As published in Feb. 24 edition of Central Michigan Life.