USA vs. Canada: Why The U.S. Hockey Team Missed Out on a Golden Opportunity

Alex ShultzCorrespondent IMarch 1, 2010

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 28:  Dejected Team USA players Patrick Kane #88 and Ryan Kesler #17 take a knee after Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada scored the matchwinning goal in overtime during the ice hockey men's gold medal game between USA and Canada on day 17 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 28, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Until yesterday, I didn’t follow hockey. My knowledge of the game stemmed from Sportscenter highlights viewed while waiting for NFL or NBA recaps. Still, with all the hype surrounding the Canada vs. U.S.A. gold medal match, I couldn’t help but tune in to watch the game in high definition on the new family TV (plus it allowed me to put off physics homework a little longer).

First off, let me state that no matter how picture perfect a television is supposed to make a hockey game look, it’s still tough to see that darn puck. Instead of watching a bullet being shot from a gun, which is what it looked like on my old TV, I saw a sports car zooming by at 150 MPH. Definitely an improvement, but I was still relying on the announcers to scream “GOOOOAL!” to know where the thing was. My dad told me that in the past, a colored line followed the puck so viewers could see it better. I don’t understand why they can’t try that again. It would certainly help clueless bystanders like me.

In terms of the actual game, however, I had a great time watching. The action was very intense, and you could feel the tension between both the players and the crowd. The American team was playing aggressively, while Canada simply relied on their overbearing skills to score goals and take an early lead.

The last second shot by Zach Parise was right on par with watching a game-winning jumper in the NBA Finals. The American team was chipping away for the entire third period, and right when everything seemed out of reach, they came up with a miraculous goal. After that, I truly believed the Americans would pull out a win.

You could see NBC’s hockey analysts beaming with pride before the start of overtime. They knew average Joe’s across the country were watching a revitalized sport that was marred by a lockout just a few years earlier. Now, millions were glued to their seats, and had a stick, a puck, and nationalism on their minds.

During the extra period, Ryan Miller reminded me of a quarterback trying to will his team to victory. Unfortunately, just like Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl, even the great ones falter from time to time. Sidney Crosby scored, and America went silent.

And then the sports universe returned to normalcy. I flipped the channel to ABC and watched the conclusion of the Nuggets/Lakers game (and started on that physics homework).

As much as hockey fans don’t want to hear it, America’s silver medal finish eliminated the NHL’s chance of gaining lots of new fans. I’m not saying the U.S.A team has anything to be ashamed of, to the contrary. They gave 110%, and anyone watching would say the same. Still, the potential for so much more was on the line until Sid the Kid coolly gave the Canadians their crown jewel of the Olympic games.

Imagine if America had scored the goal in overtime.

Instantly, it’s national news. ESPN would be projecting game highlights for days to come. There would be spin-off stories with Jeremy Schaap or Bob Ley comparing the 2010 games to the 1980 miracle on ice—something I know all about even though it occurred over a decade before I was born.

Don’t forget the effect the gold medal would have on individual players. Whoever scored the game-winning goal would become a national hero, heralded by fans everywhere. He’d get publicity from all angles, and we’re talking ESPN, CNN, NBC, radio shows, heck, even President Obama would probably give him a call.

Ryan Miller would join the ranks of the greatest sports stars too. As the MVP of the tournament, and the guy who shut down the mighty Canadians, his grizzly beard would become the symbol of American hockey for the next four years.

More than anything, the American victory would have given sports fans their favorite type of story: a David over Goliath winner. This team was supposed to be too inexperienced and not as talented as other squads, yet they still prevailed. All the average Joes who witnessed the win would tune into NHL coverage, and who knows, maybe a large number of them would’ve become fans for life.

But enough with the hypotheticals. The harsh reality is that American hockey was only a sorta-kinda success in Vancouver. For a brief few days, the U.S.A.’s fourth-favorite sport became our beloved number one. It was fun while it lasted, but for the next four years, the NHL will return to the doldrums of sports fandom.

The gold medal game didn’t convert me, but I certainly enjoyed watching hockey far more than I thought I would. Perhaps I’ll tune into some NHL action instead of watching the NBA one of these days.

More than likely though, I, like many others, will wait until 2014, where the Americans will be a hardened team of veterans ready to tear up the competition in icy Sochi, Russia.

“Great moments are born from great opportunity,” as Herb Brooks pointed out in his speech to the underdog Americans 30 years ago. While the opportunity was ripe for a complete revival of hockey Sunday, the moments became bittersweet for a country in need of a few miracles.