What Does the Men's Hockey Gold Medal Game Mean to Each Country?

Reed KaufmanCorrespondent IFebruary 28, 2010

If you haven't been following the men's hockey tournament at the 2010 Winter Olympic games, I will attempt to fill you in on what has happened here.

Team USA has come out surprising opponents and doubters alike, defeating all three of their competitors in pool play (including Canada) and earning the top seed for the playoff rounds.

Other pre-tournament favorites Russia and Sweden were defeated in the quarter-finals: Sweden by Slovakia; Russia by Canada.

Meanwhile, host Canada, who everyone assumed was a lock to win the gold at home provided they could somehow defeat the Russians, lost the aforementioned all important game against the U.S. in pool play, a huge upset. Because of this and an overtime win against Switzerland, Canada drew Olympic hockey powerhouse Russia in the quarterfinals, a matchup most believed was reserved for the gold medal game.

What all this means is that a match between Team USA and Team Canada in men's hockey is far closer than it would have seemed before the start of the Olympics, and we are in store for one of the best matchups in hockey history.

In fact, the United States is favored in the game, something that is shocking considering the talent on the Canadian roster and the home-ice advantage.

I've spent the last nine days in Vancouver and it's been quite a ride. The passion for hockey here is unmatched anywhere else in the world.

Sure they love the fact that their country is leading the way in gold medals, and made a pretty decent run at the overall medal count, but the fact that their hockey team is playing for the gold medal is what matters most.

Everyone on the street is talking about what goaltender played poorly or what forward played well or what country's team is a surprise on the ice. I've only heard slight mentions of, "Oh did you hear we won the speed skating gold today," or "I heard we won a gold in some skiing competition."

This statement is not intended to belittle the significance of the other sports. It is simply to prove that hockey is THE sport that matters the 2010 Winter Olympics host country.

Even if Canada was near last place in the medal count but won the gold in hockey, a resounding, "Well at least we won the big one," would be heard from British Columbia to Newfoundland.

The fact that the game is against border rival U.S. only heightens this significance.

But what does this game mean down in the states?

First and foremost, the fact that Team USA is in the the gold medal game helps call attention to the sport, something that all hockey fans will agree is a good thing.

Hockey has been taking a backseat to practically any type of competition that can be shown on TV in the U.S., including horse racing, car racing, or any type of game in which anyone can understand that the winner is who crosses the line first.

More recently, hockey took a back seat to the least athletic of Olympic events, ice dancing, during the round robin game of these same two teams last Sunday. NBC decided to put the first meeting of USA and Canada and MSNBC, where they somehow amassed over 8 million viewers, a staggering number for a cable station.

I believe that the gold medal game on Sunday will bring terrific ratings on NBC, and though the number will be credited to the spirit of Olympic competition, I hope the casual fan will take notice of just what a great game hockey is.

This game could have the type of effect on the country that Wayne Gretzky had on bringing hockey to California in the late '80s and early '90s (perhaps the reason I got into the sport).

I'm not going to start comparing this game to the Miracle on Ice of 1980, since there were far more political and socio-economic factors that turned a hockey game into a piece of world history.

But this game can and will have a lasting effect of both countries for years to come. It is the matchup that everyone hoped for before last Sunday's contest, and the one that we were all too nervous to even mention for fear of jinxing the possibility.

Sunday's gold medal hockey game is not the Super Bowl of hockey, it is the Halley's comet of hockey, an event that comes only once in a lifetime.