USA vs. Canada: Is this heaven? No, it's Olympic hockey

USA's 5-3 upset of Canada showcased everything that is good about hockey – and made a case for why NHL players should come back for the Winter Olympics in 2014.

The US men's hockey team celebrates its fifth goal in the 5-3 win over Canada at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Sunday.

After this, can National Hockey League owners actually follow through on their threat to take players out of the 2014 Olympics?

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

Sunday, Beattie Street in Vancouver looked like the French Quarter, which could be the first time since the establishment of the New World that Canada could be mistaken for New Orleans.

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.

Anyone who saw the showdown between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin in last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs will know that the Olympics do not hold a monopoly on hockey that stirs the soul.

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.

The Games in Nagano came and went well past beddy-by for most Americans, and Turin, well, was Turin. Inspiration came only in small drops.

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.

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