Thirty years ago at Lake Placid, the United States hockey team shocked the world by defeating the Soviet Union powerhouse and winning the gold one game later. Nobody even expected the team to medal.
Being a group of college kids with an average age of 20-years-old, they were an afterthought as the tournament began.
At the 2010 Olympics, we we were given our own version of an American dream team that could make us believe.
Like the 1980 U.S. team, this group was the youngest team in the tournament, with an average age of 25. With teams like Canada, Russia, and Sweden, the U.S. team was expected to finish well out of the medal race.
The NHL had even scheduled them to fly home Sunday morning —well before the gold medal game —because nobody expected them to be there.
As the games went along, more and more people began to take notice of this team.
When they upset Canada in the preliminary round, non-hockey fans started tuning into their games.
To those non-hockey fans, unknown players like Ryan Miller, Patrick Kane, and Zach Parise were emerging as household names, just as Jim Craig, Mark Johnson, and Mike Eruzione had become in 1980.
In the gold medal game, fans got exactly what they wanted and the NHL got just what they needed: a rematch of the United States and Canada.
Both teams consisting of highly skilled NHL players that played an in-your-face, NHL style game. It was fast-paced, hard hitting, and most importantly, it was highly entertaining.
That’s how the game is played in today’s NHL.
Unfortunately, the majority of the United States still views hockey as the sixth or seventh sport.
In Canada, hockey is everything.
They eat, sleep, and breathe it. In the U.S., it's a cult following.
However, many Americans tuned in to watch the heated rivalry unfold.
The audience peaked at 35 million viewers, meaning one out of every three Americans who own a television were watching the game.
It was the most watched hockey game in 30 years, dating back to that faithful night at Lake Placid.
As Sidney Crosby scored to give Canada gold once again, I don’t know if I was more upset at the fact that, being the American that I am, the United States just lost, or the fact that hockey will go back to being a non-factor in the sports world.
I’ll no longer get to see hockey talked about in excessive amounts on the local sports networks.
I’ll no longer get those texts and Facebook messages about hockey from all my friends who don’t even follow the sport.
However, the Olympic hockey tournament has done one important thing for us hardcore hockey fans: It has given us hope. Hope that hockey can once again be one of the top sports in our nation.
Ask any real hockey fan and they'll say the NHL is arguably the best it's ever been.
It's loaded with young talented teams and a tremendous amount of parity.
These games have showed us that. With young superstars like Sidney Crosby, Ryan Miller, Alexander Ovechkin, and Patrick Kane, it is going to stay that way.
The NHL needs to market these emerging superstars and show American sports fans that these Olympic games represent how the NHL is played today.
I truly believe that this current U.S. team made people believe in hockey once again, just as that miraculous team did in 1980.
As they proved to us the last two weeks, hockey is no longer just Canada’s game.