Sid the Kid scored one for the ages Sunday. In overtime of the gold medal game between Teams USA and Canada, Crosby's little wrist shot through Ryan Miller's legs wrote a page in hockey history not soon to be forgotten.
According to several reports, ratings for the Olympic finale were through the proverbial roof. In the U.S., the game drew an average of 27.6 million viewers with a ratings share of 15.2.
For hockey, these numbers are astronomical. It makes Sunday's game the third most watched hockey game in U.S. history, trailing only 1980s USA-Russia "Miracle on Ice" game and the resultant gold medal game between USA and Finland.
To put that into some perspective, the NHL's most recent ratings coup—Game Seven of last season's Stanley Cup Finals between the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins—drew eight million viewers and pulled in a 4.3 ratings share. Yet that was the most watched NHL game in 36 years.
Even so, hockey is beginning to gain a bit of momentum in the United States. Ratings have been ticking upwards, albeit slowly, with each successive season since the lockout cancelled the 2004-05 season. Adding to the league's success is its newest tradition, the Winter Classic, which has been a New Year's Day winner.
The NHL is crossing its fingers in hopes that the ratings explosion from the Olympics carries over into the remainder of the 2010 season and beyond.
This comes as no surprise. The fact of the matter is that modern Olympic hockey is merely an advertisement for the NHL.
The league could care less about national pride or who wins the gold. Since 1998, the league has been willing to shut itself down for three weeks each season in hopes of exactly what occurred Sunday: its star players playing at the highest level on a worldwide stage attracting a multitude of viewers—fans and non-fans alike.
No promotion the league could dream up equalled the hype and even the reality of what took place on the Olympic ice Sunday. The numbers proved this out.
Was this all just a lucky turn of events for the NHL and its broadcast partner NBC?
The two entities are linked in a rather unusual television deal. The NHL and NBC equally split all revenue generated from NBC's broadcast of the league's games. No other professional sports league has this sort of television deal.
The two had to be smiling ear to ear grins while shaking hands over the numbers generated by the hockey games during these past Olympics. While NHL all-stars filled the top contending teams' rosters, NBC saw even its ratings on MSNBC soar. In fact, MSNBC drew its second-highest ratings ever (with the 2008 presidential election being number one) with the first USA-Canada matchup.
Luckily for NBC, despite USA knocking Canada into the losers bracket for the remainder of the Olympic tournament, Canada fought its way back into the gold medal final.
The final didn't disappoint NBC or the NHL. Not only was the game a tight, hard-fought contest, it was remarkably pushed into overtime thanks to a nail-biting, last second goal by Team USA's Zach Parise.
Then in OT, as if written by a Hollywood screenwriter, the NHL's "next Wayne Gretzky" Sidney Crosby flicked the game winner into the net and became Canada's newest national hero, perhaps even surpassing the Great One in that moment.
It all seemed almost too good to be true.
Rarely do honest-to-goodness "Hollywood endings" actually occur in this world. Yet that is exactly what transpired in these past Olympic hockey games with both NBC and the NHL getting the maximum return on its investment into the tournament.
Granted, it seems next to impossible to believe the fix was in for the Olympics. Yet in remembering that the hockey games—in the NHL's eyes—are mere advertising and that every contending team was stocked with NHL players, then perhaps "impossible" is the wrong word to use.
Still, the players are there to represent their respective country, and to think that the NHL could convince a team (or a player) to tank a game is highly unlikely. Perhaps it would be even unnecessary as both USA and especially Canada were expected to reach the medal round. Both teams had met head-to-head in the gold medal game in the Salt Lake City games of 2002.
Then again, there was what occurred in 2006 in Torino, when both USA and Canada managed to end the Olympics in seventh and eighth place respectively. Those teams, like the 2002 and 2010 teams, were stocked with NHL All-Stars. So nothing was a true given.
Then there was the gold medal game itself. With that many NHL stars on the ice, nothing less than spectacular should have been expected. The game, surprisingly, lived up to the hype.
But there were oddities. Perhaps the most glaring being Roberto Luongo's inability to hold on to the puck. This sudden lack of coordination gave USA the ability to comeback from the 2-0 hole it had dug for itself and send the game into overtime.
Again, thinking Luongo could've been "on the take" when the entire country of Canada was behind him seems ridiculous. Mere nerves given the stakes of the game likely explains how pucks were bouncing off of him like he was a wooden cut-out.
Then there was the game-winner—Sid the Kid's shot through Ryan Miller's weakly guarded five-hole. Could someone, besides Jerome Iginla, have set that up?
Yet, what would be the odds that Crosby would in fact be the player to score one of the biggest goals in Canadian hockey history? How likely was it that the new face of the NHL would further entrench himself into both Canadian and American hockey fans' collective consciousness with such a dramatic goal?
On paper, it appears too fanciful to believe. If you told someone, before the Olympics, that USA would beat Canada early in the tournament, yet it would still come down to a rematch with Canada playing the USA in the gold medal game, and that the contest would go into overtime with none other than Sidney Crosby scoring the game winner, no one would believe you.
Yet that's exactly what happened.
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