That Silver Lining: USA Hockey Awakes a Sleeping Giant

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That Silver Lining: USA Hockey Awakes a Sleeping Giant
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Don't get me wrong; I was born a fan of almost every sport other than hockey. 

Hockey ranked right above squash, tennis, and all those guys that drive around in circles for three hours and dignify themselves as "athletes".

Yeah, I got it. I understood the rules. I enjoyed the big hits and the triple-dekes. 

Hell, D2: The Mighty Ducks was one of the prime VHS films I had growing up. 

But I never engulfed myself into it. Never poured it all out on the line for it. Didn't buy a 24 case of Miller Lite (hint, hint) before the puck was dropped onto the numbed ice. 

A lot of people don't. 

A lot of people didn't.

Some still don't. Some, still won't.

But, if you're an American, chances are you love a good show. No matter what's being played on the big screen. 

Not to mention, if you're an American, there's nothing better than an underdog showing its true colors.

That proverbial one-eighty is what gets us. 

Or, to be more 2010, a Double McTwist 1260. Thank you, Shaun White.

It hits us square in the willpower and fortitude section of the heart.

Herb Brooks showed us the magic. Al Michaels called it. Jim Craig stopped it. 

That was some years ago; 30, to be exact. 

What's funny about hockey is that it represents the same odd conundrum that plagues a sport like soccer. 

Paste a city or state name on the front, you're hearing crickets. Slap a country patch on the front of that jersey, and suddenly, there's a higher calling screaming its lungs out.

There are suddenly colors. Not names on the back of jerseys. Not endorsements splattered around. 

Add in a smidgen of underdog, and you're in business. 

I don't care much for the NHL. Never really have, probably never will. I'd rather relieve the glory days of Charlie, Averman, Fulton, Goldberg, and Adam Banks. 

But stitch on some stars and some stripes? Well, I'm front-row center. Well, that is after Vancouver. 

Hockey fans are arguably the most passionate sports fans of all. They're the definition of die-hard, staunch in their reserve and are pretty much prototypes of the guys skating a million miles an hour forth and back out on the ice. 

As my mother would say, "they take no s--- from nobody."

That's the beauty of the Olympics, though. Like the World Cup does for soccer, it takes those archetypal baseball, football, basketball fans out of their element—out of their comfort zone. 

Puts them where? Bam, smack in the middle of things. Facing off against Sidney Crosby, Danny Heatley, and Chris Pronger. Toe-to-toe with Patrick Marleau and Jerome Iginla. 

Names. They become familiar when associated with meaning. With pride. With a lofted goal.

In these Winter Olympic games, there was an afterthought in the men's hockey tournament. Its name was Team USA. Now, tell me, what is it about hockey that brings the best out of the fans and the most out of those who have been told they can't do it?

That they don't belong on this stage?

Beats me. I'm used to it now. Yeah, I've seen Miracle. I've seen the replays on ESPN Classic. 

And no, I haven't forgotten about Gordon Bombay's boys in District 5, either.

And, yet again, the hockey delivered. For us all. 

The host country was clocked at the hands of their bitter rival to the south. An Ali haymaker to the jaw in round play. 

Translation: The USA boys were here, and here, to stay. 

A team that wasn't even supposed to medal, let alone beat the crystal-clear No. 1 team in the world on its home ice, just did what it does best. 

Shut em' up.

Sunday's rematch against the Canadians was set up to rival what only Zeus and his boys imagined when they invented the Olympiad. (Joke, please; no fire and brimstone).

The All-Stars against the kinda-sorta-maybe-All-Stars. 

The Chosen One, round two against Jim Craig, round two. 

Skate by skate, hit by hit, the game played its way into lore. As reported by a bystander on Twitter, former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis sat glued at an airport bar screaming like his former Fighting Irish had just lost to UConn at home. 

Whoops.

This may not have been the Soviet Union, but it meant something. It still does. The loss to the Canadians in the gold medal game hurts. And don't kid for a second that these NHL'ers don't take it with a few grains of salt.

Zach Parise flashed shades of US Soccer midfielder Clint Dempsey after the Stars & Stripes lost to powerhouse Brazil in last year's Confederation's Cup.

He lost it. 

Understandably so. 

He wanted gold. He could taste after he provided the best shush to an opposing crowd in the history of shushes to opposing crowds. Parise beat keeper Robert Luongo with 24 ticks left in the third period to knot it all up.

All the pieces were in place and the 30th anniversary of what many call the biggest upset in sports history was set to have its bell rung. 

But, in the end, as my mother also says, "s--- happens."

A phenomenal player went all Michael Jordan on team USA in overtime and that was that. 

Second place, was where we sat. 

For no ounce of shame, though. For nearly three hours, a bunch of dudes chasing each other around on ice stopped time back here in the states. They had so much karmic energy flowing toward them that Phil Jackson would've had a stroke. 

Que sera, sera .

I give credit where credit's due. I can admit when I am "jumping on the bandwagon". I don't know if there is a bandwagon for national pride, but if there is, sign me up.

My name will be the one written under the other 8.2 million viewers. 

If you ask me to become a hockey fan, I will regrettably have to decline. There are too many different teams I've dedicated my life to having swallow my heart and politely crap it out. 

Put USA hockey in front of me once every four years, and I'll be the one bringing the 24 back of Miller and calling foul for the power play inadequacies. 

Because that's what it's supposed to be.

Unifying a country for just a couple hours, with one determined goal in mind. The peak that seemed unattainable was one deflection away. One righty slap-shot away from pandemonium. 

It didn't happen. 

But, 30 years from now, I can tell my kids that I remember Patrick Kane storming his way up the wings. That I remember Ryan Kesler channeling his inner-Pete Rose to reach around in full-on stretch mode and slap in a deciding goal against Canada to clinch the No. 1 seed in the tournament. 

And I will be able to tell my kids that Ryan Miller was The Great Wall. 

We've been ingrained that winning is the only way. 

Team USA won more than just silver in Vancouver. 

They awoke a sleeping giant. 

That giant is the United States, and when the puck drops in rematch against the Canadians in Sochi in 2014, you can bet two things:

1) Charlie Weis will be attached to the TV and the bar's assortment of peanuts.

2) That awoken giant will be craving the sweet taste of gold.

During the Revolutionary War, the Second Continental Congress passed at the forming of five Marine companies that would accompany the US Navy to intercept incoming British ships. The Marines that enlisted hailed from Philadelphia. 

They carried drums with a motto inscribed onto them.

The same motto that ran across the side the Ryan Miller's keeper mask. 

"Don't Tread On Me."

Pretty fitting.

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