Bringing Hockey Back From The Dark Days

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Bringing Hockey Back From The Dark Days
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In case you've been under a rock for the last two weeks, a major transformation has been occurring in Vancouver. While the NFL is in Indianapolis scouting its newest superstars, pitchers and catchers are reporting to Spring Training, the NBA's 82 game campaign rolls on, and we sit in the lull between the Super Bowl and March Madness, the collective eye of the sports world has fixed its gaze on British Columbia, particularly on the Canada Hockey Place. Normally the home to the Canucks, the arena has become host to the resurrection of hockey for the past two weeks. 

As fans all across the world watched the electric atmosphere today as the host nation won the gold medal, hockey re-entered the mind of the average sports fan. For the last five years, the major sports scene has been the big three, not the big four as in the past. Hockey fell to the wayside after its league-wide strike in 2004, and fans just watched basketball, baseball, or football instead. Gone were the days where names like Sakic, Jagr, and Hasek were as recognizable as Bryant, Favre, and Jeter. Until 2010.

The Olympic Hockey Tournament was previewed as a two week gold medal lap for the Canadian team, taking easily what was rightfully theirs on home ice in front of their biggest fans. The U.S. team was an interesting side story, with young players getting their first international experience, but a side story at best, falling behind the wonderkins Ovechkin and Crosby. Pool play started as expected, with Canada and the U.S. winning early, setting up a pool championship game on Sunday night. Most predicted that the young guns from the U.S. would hang with the Canadians for a period at the most, then their lack of experience would be exposed and the hosts would pull away for a victory. 

But what happened shocked the world. The U.S. battered veteran stalwart in net Martin Brodeur with shot after shot, and converted on multiple opportunities to defeat Canada 5-3 and capture the top seed going into the elimination bracket. A night before the thirty year anniversary of "The Miracle," the 2010 version of the Stars and Stripes hockey squad pulled off a miracle of their own. Two wins later, including an embarrassing 6-1 defeat of Finland in the semifinal game, and the U.S. was looking at a rematch with the host nation, this time for gold medals.

The fact that the underdog Americans had managed to get to the gold medal game, especially by beating Canada, had people talking. The Sunday afternoon North American Showdown was the hot topic on everything from SportsCenter to the Today Show. Hockey had been resurrected from its grave, brought back to the spotlight as American pride swelled and suddenly Stasny, Parise, and Miller became household names. 

The game itself could not have lived up to its lofty expectations any better. After being battered and beaten in a physical, heated matchup uncharacteristic of international hockey, the boys in blue found themselves down a goal with a minute left on the clock. After Coach Ron Wilson pulled goaltender Ryan Miller in favor of a sixth attacker, the U.S. won a crucial faceoff in the Canadian zone and after two shots and rebounds, Zach Parise punched the equalizer through Roberto Luongo's pads and sent the game to overtime. Sadly, destiny was not wearing red, white and blue, and Sidney Crosby became a national hero, putting the puck behind Miller and securing Canada's 14th gold medal of the games.

Despite a tragic defeat, U.S. hockey scored a major victory in these Olympic games. Every sport goes through a dark age, and every sport needs a major turnaround to bring them out of it. Baseball had Ruth and Maris after the Black Sox scandal, and McGwire and Sosa after their strike. Basketball had Jordan. Football had the Cowboys and Steelers dynasty. And Hockey had Vancouver 2010. Because of team U.S.A.'s surprising performance, NHL TV ratings will soar, kids will be reintroduced to the sport, and hockey will once again capture the hearts of fans across the country. Vancouver 2010 may not have featured a Miracle on Ice, but it may have saved U.S. hockey.

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