USA Hockey: If You're Not First, You're Last

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USA Hockey:  If You're Not First, You're Last
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

I had a dream. 

It had nothing to do with civil rights, but it did have everything to do with American history.

I dreamt—well, day dreamt actually—that Team USA pulled out a victory in the gold medal hockey game of the Olympics. 

USA hockey drew a lot of attention and respect by over-achieving at the 2010 Olympics, but they were left just one paltry overtime shot away from euphoria.

In a game that garnered throngs of new American spectators for hockey, USA came close but no cigars—those were all taken by the Canadian women’s hockey team. 

The true hockey fan can revel in the fact that, win or lose, they saw unforgettable hockey that Sunday.  They can understand just how hard it is to win a tournament this short and of this magnitude.  They will stand and salute Ryan Miller even if he’s not on their team, like they did in Canada and then in Pittsburgh on the first day back.  They know that this USA hockey performance was special and that Team USA made a true statement.

But the majority of Americans are not true hockey fans.  Second place in America just isn’t good enough.  America worships first place, and forgets about second place, no matter how close the contest.  If Michael Phelps took home only silver medals, he would just be some guy you vaguely remember, and that's if you even watched the Summer Olympics.

The Hollywood overtime victory makes much more sense on the American psyche than a hard fought second place effort.

Now, daydream with me for a moment... 

Imagine that Ryan Miller closes the five-hole on Sid the Kid.  The puck somehow squirts to Zach Parise, who takes it end-to-end and beats the shaky Luongo a second time for the epic win.  I am usually not one for these “what-if” scenarios, but the question is:

How would this change the perception of hockey by Americans?

For starters, we would have heard a glorious play-call from Doc Emrick that would serve as the “Do you believe in miracles” for a new generation.  Future USA Olympic broadcasts would not mention the "Miracle in Lake Placid: every five minutes but instead speak a little about the "Victory in Vancouver."

Replays of the game-tying and game-winning goal would be as ubiquitous as the Mike Eruizone goal from 1980.  More importantly, the goals would be re-enacted by American kids everywhere from streets, to rinks and even living rooms, where lamps and knick-knacks would be broken from reckless indoor hockey.

NHL viewership and youth hockey registrations would rise even higher than they have since the silver medal finish.  Hockey would spend a few extra weeks on the social consciousness of America.  I would not have had to ask the waitress at the bar tonight to change one of the televisions from college basketball to hockey. 

Who knows?  The NHL might even eventually find itself back on ESPN rather than the Versus Network, where they play in between rodeos and fishing expeditions.

In the summer, the team would take a trip to Washington to take pictures with the President while decked out in gold medals and USA apparel. 

Meanwhile on the northern side of the border, the Vancouver Olympics would be remembered as just so-so.  Luongo’s reputation as a colossal big game failure would be solidified, and Crosby would still have an achievement or two left in his career.

What a difference a shot makes.

There is no question that this past Olympics made great strides for USA Hockey, but had just one more measly shot found the back of the net, hockey in America would have not just sparked, it would have exploded.

But this USA team should hold their heads high even after the temporary hockey fans have left. 

I have a dream…that one day USA hockey will not be judged by the color of their medal, but by the content of their character. 

Until then, see you in 2014, where hopefully NHL players are present and the 33 year-old Ryan Miller is still at the top of his game.

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