While my home team lost the gold medal in the men’s ice hockey final at the Vancouver Olympics, the game did serve one purpose.
It reminded me – along with millions of other people watching – why I love hockey.
You know how people say they love things like it’s their job? I could easily have a job loving hockey. A lifer Capitals fan who happily supported the late, possibly-lamented minor league Dayton Bombers when I lived in Ohio, one of the great joys of my life has been watching my home team rise to playoffs (and I believe Stanley Cup-contender) level since I’ve been back.
Today, while I rooted for Team USA to beat Canada in the Olympic gold medal game, I realized around about the middle of the second period when USA got off of its collective ass and made it a real contest that this is why people who love hockey so much know that it’s such a great game. This is why, no matter how much old-time hockey fans complain about bandwagons and newbie fans, I think it’s cool that so many people have been sucked in by a growing NHL and this well-played North American Olympic contest.
I got fired up. As a fan familiar with the varying tempos of games I felt the situation change from a back and forth snoozer to a toss-up in a way that got me up on the edge of my seat. I thought my team might have a win in them yet, and even if they didn’t it at least wouldn’t be a giveaway.
That feeling lasted through an exciting third period and a literally last-minute goal by Zach Parise that sent this already epic Olympic medal game into almost eight minutes of overtime until Sidney Crosby’s goal (she writes with great sadness) gave Canada the gold medal.
“A great player made a great play and found a way to finish us off tonight,” said U.S. head coach Ron Wilson. “I think both teams are winners, but more importantly I think tonight the game of hockey is the real winner.”
Both teams played a great game, but Canada won, fair and square, 3-2. We lost.
And perhaps most importantly to me, especially because my team lost so I’ve already had time to move on to the existential conclusion, hockey won.
I’m a sap and a sucker and I’m oddly pleased for Canada, although my required Caps fan disdain for Pittburgh Penguin Crosby makes me rather bitter about the vehicle.
(If you are new to all of this, just Google “Patrick Division NHL hockey” for the backstory on that. Also ask any hockey fan who is not from Pittsburgh, excluding the Canadians who are only now vowing not to talk smack about him ever again. I know at least one, and I believe she will crack in short order.)
Seriously, I believe in sports as a reflection of personal and local pride. In a classily-run and contested Olympic Games that saw its share of pain and loss, I think a hard-fought win for the host country in a sport that means so much there that it has its own national holiday is actually a beautiful thing.
As someone on Twitter said, a Canada loss would have been like the U.S. losing to Canada in football.
But for a few minutes there, there was that amazing Parise goal that put U.S. goalie Ryan Miller back into the net where he belongs and took it to overtime. My Twitter stream blew up. I exploded out of my chair and screamed in my living room.
And I said, “This is why I love hockey,” once I sat down and stopped screaming.
It is a maddening game and it can make you crazy if you care about it, really. It moves so fast. It’s high-pressure and it can turn on a dime. It’s excellent if you’re into that sort of thing, and once you do get into it, just try to quit it, I dare you.
And on many occasions in my life when I’ve been watching great hockey, I know there’s nothing like it, and it’s just cool to enjoy something that much. The two U.S. – Canada games at the Olympics really were some of the most exciting hockey I’ve ever seen.
In the end the U.S. was the only team in this Olympics that was undefeated in regulation. Miller was named the MVP of the tournament, deservedly so, with 36 saves. The guys on both sides will head back to their NHL locker rooms today, while I bet a lot of Canadians are calling in sick from the looks of the streets in Vancouver after the game.
As for my team, they play the Sabres on Wednesday, so I’m hoping Buffalo gives Miller the week off. Otherwise I’m going to be a little confused, and more than a little nervous. He may have let the last one in, but this guy knows how to stop a puck.
Congratulations, Canada. Well-played, USA.
[Photos courtesy of Reuters]