I had a bad feeling about today's gold medal game from the start. I knew Team USA couldn't surprise Canada the way they did last week, and I didn't expect a total collapse like we saw from Finland in the semifinal game on Friday. Canada played some incredible hockey in their quarterfinal against Russia and survived a late threat from Slovakia to get to the championship. They were on a mission. From the start, Canada knocked us off their game. Their defense reminded me of the Detroit Red Wings against the Penguins last year (and the year before). We couldn't get clear shots. We couldn't control the puck. Dump-and-chase wasn't working. But a goal in the 2nd period gave Team USA some life, and we looked better in the 3rd. When we tied the game I was incoherent for a good five minutes. And things started out well in the extra period. But overtime games are often won on quirky goals from defensive mistakes, and this game was no different. Sidney Crosby, captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, scored the game-winner for Canada and set off a riotous celebration in the arena. The crowd's rendition of "O Canada" was as rousing as I've ever heard it. The members of Team USA looked as if someone had shot their dogs.
But no one on our team should be upset for too long. I'm disappointed Team USA couldn't pull off the upset. And make no mistake: throughout this tournament and in this game, we were the underdogs. Today, in front of a raucous home crowd, facing a superior team, it's a small miracle we stayed in the game at all. Canada's 2-0 lead could easily have become a rout. Canada played an excellent game and deserves all the credit for winning the gold. But before the Olympics few hockey experts thought Team USA had a chance to go this far, let alone come within a OT goal of winning it all. Ryan Miller played out of his mind for two weeks and for that alone he shouldn't ever have to pay for a beer again. (H/T Amanda Rykoff) We played our hearts out today. And with some luck, we'll get them back in 2014.
In the immediate future, I hope this tournament will be a boost for hockey and the NHL here. For the past two weeks we've seen some incredible games from the best players in the world. We have the best professional hockey league in the world right here in North America. The teams play for the greatest trophy in sports. Casual hockey fans who got into the game over the past two weeks owe it to themselves to check out a NHL game on TV, if not in person. The biggest problem, of course, is the TV exposure. So many of the NHL's games are buried on Versus. I watch as many Penguins games as I can on Versus, and I have no idea where that channel is on my cable box. I have to look for it each time I tune in. If the NHL's games are too difficult to find, people will move on to March Madness and baseball and hockey will continue to languish. But there is no postseason better than the NHL playoffs. It's two months of games just like what we've seen in Vancouver. I'd love to see more people become fans of the game, and now is the perfect time.
In the not-so-immediate future, the NHL has to commit to sending its players to Sochi, Russia, for 2014. They're going to face a revolt from the players' union if they don't. Many of the Russian players plan to go home and play for their national team even if it means violating their NHL contracts. And I'd be shocked if Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal, and Roberto Luongo didn't want to defend their gold medals in four years. The PR hit would be devastating for a league that is still trying to recover from the 2004 lockout. The NHL is in enough trouble. And this tournament was so much fun to watch. Send the players to Russia. It's the right thing to do.
Congratulations again, Canada. You were the best team today and you earned a great victory. Enjoy those gold medals. We'll see you in Russia.