Olympic Hockey: Canada May Have Won Gold, But USA Won Tournament

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIMarch 8, 2010

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 28:  Goaltender Ryan Miller #39 of USA skates off the ice after losing 3-2 in the first overtime of their ice hockey men's gold medal game against Canada on day 17 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 28, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

This article is not going to be popular among my Canadian friends. And I have—or had—many of them.

I work for a Canadian company, I have dozens of Canadian fans on this site and several who are friends of mine on Facebook, and (with all due respect to my favourite team, the Green Bay Packers!) my favourite sport is the Canadian national pastime. Heck, you can see that I even use Canadian spellings (okay, originally they were the English ones).

But even my attempts to broach this idea in the last week since the gold medal game have been met with accusations that I am bitter, a sore loser, making excuses, or diminishing Canada's accomplishment. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I will address them one-by-one.

There is nothing bitter about me regarding Olympic hockey, unless you are referring to my prognostication skills: I picked Canada to win, but had every other medalist wrong.

The tournament was extraordinary, and did wonders for marketing the world's best game. Team USA made me proud and exceeded my expectations, and more games than I predicted (back to my lack of prognostication skill!) were close and competitive.

More to the point, because this is the thing that my Northern neighbours have misjudged me on, I fully acknowledge that the best team won. They were better than us in the final, and we were not robbed.

That should take care of the "sore loser" and excuse-making accusations. Let's move on to the diminishing Canada's accomplishment, because this one has some merit.

Let me make this clear: Canada was expected to win, and especially playing at home, that is an intense amount of pressure. There may be nothing harder than winning when everyone expects you to.

Unless it is winning with far less talent. Like every other team in the tournament.

Canada had 14 players who had participated in last season's NHL All Star Game, and all but one of their players (Patrice Bergeron) is on the ice when the puck first drops for his team's contests. In fact, if Canada fielded two hockey teams, their next 23 players would be medal favourites.

Do not misunderstand me, Team USA was no slouch: 12 of their 19 players participating in the gold medal game are on the ice to start games for their teams, and the rest still play significant roles on their teams. However, there is no comparison to the talent of Canada—only four participated in last year's NHL All Star Game.

For this team to win a medal at all was a bigger accomplishment than Canada winning gold. But that alone would not be enough for me to be more proud of my team than Canada should be of theirs.

The reason I believe Team USA was the most impressive in the Olympics was they played hard on every shift. They came up with an upset win over arguably the most talented team ever assembled, beat a team on their own level 6-1, and never trailed until the gold medal game, when they still managed to come back from a two-goal deficit to force overtime.

Canada lost to a less talented Team USA, then blew a two-goal lead as their intensity noticeably diminished once they attained that lead (a trait my San Jose Sharks are known for—albeit less-so this season—that drives me nuts) before needing overtime to beat their little brothers.

They needed a shootout to beat Switzerland, who had only two current NHL players. They almost blew a three-goal, third period lead to Slovakia, who had fewer NHL players than Canada had All Stars.

Did they rise up when it counted? Yes. (My fear is this will teach the four San Jose Sharks on the team—more than any other NHL team—that they can do this, as they have tried in the past, during this year's NHL playoffs, leading to another premature defeat.)

Is this the spirit of the Olympics? No.

Originally an amateur competition, it has always been about national pride spurring on amazing performances, much like the early rounds of March Madness. Players are supposed to show constant work ethic and "leave it all on the ice."

This is what Team USA did. This is what the Slovakians did. This does not describe Team Canada, who was outworked in three of their six games and relied on their ability to take over when they turned the switch back on.

I am certainly not alone in this assessment. Team USA Coach Ron Wilson echoed my sentiments a week ago:

"I couldn't have asked anything more of our players. They did us proud. They played hard for 60-some minutes, right to the end in regulation and (Canada) made a great play and found a way to finish us off. But, we are very proud of every one of our players—their character, how hard they tried, their comportment here has been excellent.'
"It's just a shame that both teams couldn't have received a gold medal today. Sometimes, the best team in the tournament doesn't win a gold medal. I thought our team played as well as any team I have ever coached."

That's what the Olympics are supposed to be about, and that's why to me USA hockey's silver medals shine brighter than Canada's gold ones do.

Hopefully, my Canadian friends can be objective and acknowledge we accomplished more even though they reached the ultimate goal. If not, I do not blame them for being defensive about their nation's performance in their nation's game, especially given they did win gold.

I originally wrote this article for Shark-Infested Blogger .