Ramble On Sports

Where sports, pop culture and everything else collide.

Team USA can still hold its heads high

Posted by Bill Koch on February 28, 2010

USA Hockey

Raise your hand if you thought the USA men’s hockey team would be playing for a gold medal on Sunday when the 2010 Olympics started two weeks ago.

Those of you with your hands up, put them down. You’re liars, and we here at Ramble On don’t promote such behavior (In cases like these, that is – in the name of doin’ work all is forgiven.). I’ll be the first to admit that I gave the Americans no chance to win a medal of any color or even a couple of games against the best the world has to offer, and I was pleasantly proven wrong.

Pre-tournament favorite Canada took a little different route to gold than it might have expected, one that looked to have a permanent detour when Zach Parise knocked in a rebound with less than 30 seconds to play to force overtime, but the host country notched a 3-2 win thanks to Sidney Crosby’s goal in the extra session. Vancouver’s Golden Boy shook free off the left boards and snuck a shot through the legs of USA goalie Ryan Miller, catching the tournament’s MVP by surprise for one of the rare goals that Miller allowed in his brilliant six-game run.

I’ll allow someone else to write about Crosby for two reasons – I loathe him and his pre-packaged little story of a trip to hockey stardom, and everyone else is going to line up and trip over themselves to kiss his ass all the way to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. I’d rather focus on the bunch of blue-wearing underdogs who took the ice and battled the world’s most successful hockey nation for more than 60 minutes on Sunday in pursuit of a silver medal that wasn’t even in the conversation on Feb. 12.

Miller was the unquestioned backbone and proved why every NHL team with a good goaltender feels good about itself going into the postseason, but quite a few other players for Team USA opened my eyes over these two weeks. Parise is a lot better than I ever gave him credit for, likely because he hasn’t been surrounded by this much offensive talent since his college days at North Dakota. He’s a special player and more than capable of being a top scorer on a Stanley Cup winner. Ryan Kesler is an absolute beast, a frightening mix of size and speed who can terrorize opposing defensemen. Brian Rafalski still has something special left in his tank when the games count the most – he looked like the offensive-minded defenseman who starred for New Jersey throughout the 1990s. Ryan Suter is every bit as good on the blue line as his uncle, Gary, a 17-year NHL veteran, and every bit as deserving of a gold medal as his father, Bob, who was a forward on the 1980 Miracle on Ice team. Chris Drury can still play for me any day of the week if I have one postseason game to win and need a big goal and some leadership.

And now, for me, hockey is done for the year. It might be done for four years. There’s nothing that the watered-down NHL can offer from now until June that can match what happened on Sunday. Olympic hockey is the sport at its best, and I can’t wait until four years from now when it happens again. The one thing that will change for me? I won’t be taking the USA lightly again.

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