Sunday, many Americans watched probably the most exciting game of hockey that they have – and perhaps will – ever see in their lives.
To those who were watching in 1980: You are, of course, excepted. But in the post-cold war world, this is about as good as it is bound to get.
True, no medal was at stake, and Canada will live to play the Germans Tuesday. But the United States’ 5-3 win over Canada Sunday, while no miracle, was miraculous hockey. And in the spirit of a growing rivalry between neighbors, it will surely count almost as much as a medal.
Back in America, do people understand the enormity of what just happened here?
Canada's Mardi Gras
Earlier this month in Miami, the Super Bowl had the feel of vacuum-sealed excitement, something pre-packaged and fed to the masses with Bud Light commercials. It was an excuse for a week-long party, with a football game at the end of it.
Sunday morning in Vancouver was a spontaneous national celebration emanating from Canada’s deep cultural connection to a single sport. The anticipation of this game flushed the streets of Vancouver Canada-red. Thousands upon thousands of hockey sweater-wearing partisans spread like an autumn maple leaf across the city.
What could be seen in Canada Hockey Place was but the minutest fraction of what animated the city and country beyond its walls.
This made Sunday’s game extraordinary. But so, too, did the hockey.
It was a game as advertised – a cross-border bout of Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots on ice. Canada, with its superior skill, pummeled the American net with pucks. But, built to do all the little things right – and to thank their stars and stripes that they have Ryan Miller in goal – America not only hung on but counterpunched. And hard.
Never, in 60 minutes of slugfest hockey, did Canada hold the lead.
The ultimate advertisement
Does the NHL inspire like this? In fact, as games near the moment when the steward of the Stanley Cup puts on those silly white gloves, it sometimes comes close.
But guess what? If Sidney Crosby and Canada beat a weak German team Tuesday, who will they face? Alexander Ovechkin and Russia.
The NHL should buy that three-hour time slot and promote it as the best possible advertisement for the game of hockey.
There is, of course, logic behind why NHL owners don’t want to shut down the league for two weeks every four years. The Olympics return their players worse for wear, and – with the exception of Salt Lake – the Olympics have done little to sell hockey in the US.
But 2014 is in Sochi – that would be Russia. Do you think Russia won’t be excited by Olympic hockey?
The fact is, Olympic hockey, while perhaps not the best hockey (teams come together only a day before the tournament starts), is hockey in its purest form: passion, skill, and skating.
Is this hockey heaven? No, it’s the Olympics.
Witness Mark foam at the mouth for another week on his Olympic Twitter feed.