Yes, the Canadians — like the old Red Army team — were heavy favorites heading into this tournament. And yes, goalie Ryan Miller stood on his head with 42 saves just like Jim Craig did 30 years ago. Oh, and as Boston University alum Mike Eruzione scored the winning goal in Lake Placid 30 years ago, there was another clutch forward from BU, Chris Drury, who scored the go-ahead goal in the second period on Sunday. But really, the similarities end there.
Sunday's victory over Canada was thrilling and, yes, it was very unexpected given the pre-Olympic hype and predictions. But this U.S. win was a statement game, not a miracle.
I had predicted that a USA win on Sunday would be "another miracle," but Eric Engels of Hockeybuzz.com and The Team 990 brought me back down to Earth and put things into perspective. In 1980, the U.S. had a group of college kids and amateurs that knocked off the mighty Soviets in the heat of the Cold War and the Iranian hostage crisis. The Soviets had won every ice hockey gold medal but one since 1956, going 27-1-1 after losing to the USA at Squaw Valley in 1960.
This Canadian squad that Team USA beat on Sunday is an all-star team loaded with NHL All-Stars. But let's be fair, this American team — also full of NHLers — isn't too shabby either. In fact, if that 1980 gold-medal-winning team was to play the 2010 USA squad and win, that, too, could be considered a miracle. This 2010 U.S. squad is very skilled, but its players are young and generally inexperienced when it comes to the Olympics. That's why there are so many "miracle" comparisons.
But this was no miracle. Rather it was a passionate and hard-working performance by a hungry group of Americans tired both of hearing it from their Canadian teammates in the NHL and of being the purportedly inferior hockey country. This was a loud statement to the rest of the world that American hockey is still alive and well and that our team can hang with the likes of Canada and Russia.
A bigger statement, of course, would be to win gold. Whether the U.S. can do that remains to be seen.
But at least for a few days, the Americans can cling to this upset and recall their forefathers from the 1980 team. Thirty years after Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione and coach Herb Brooks helped lead their team to a miraculous win over the powerful Soviets, they should be celebrated and remembered fondly. Maybe the current U.S. team will even celebrate today's anniversary by watching highlights of the 1980 game or the great movie Miracle, starring Kurt Russell.
Just keep in mind that the two teams are very different. Hopefully NBC and the American fans will simply celebrate their team after its big win and cheer their players on as they pursue their legit chance at gold in Vancouver.
If the USA goes on to complete a magical gold-medal run this week, then they can be celebrated 30 years from now, too. But they should not be confused with the real "Miracle on Ice" team, out of respect both for the 1980 team and the current 2010 squad.
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