Let's get this straight. Team USA's 5-3 victory over their Canadian counterparts last night was a hugely important victory. Huge. And the game itself was a classic, a truely epic battle. And the result most assuredly was an upset.
But this was not comparable to 1980's Miracle on Ice as some have suggested in their post-game hysteria and rush to coin the moment
For sure some of the same elements of the 1980 Olympic win over Russia were there last night for the United States. Team USA clearly was in the role of underdog in both games. Team USA was extremely opportunistic offensively, and took advantage of average goaltending by a world-class goaltender (Russia's Vladislav Tretiak in '80, Canada's Martin Brodeur last night). Team USA was tenacious, playing with high levels of grit and passion in their game. Team USA seemed on the ropes at many points during each game, being vastly outplayed, only to be saved by their own brilliant goaltending (Jim Craig in 1980 and Ryan Miller, with 42 saves, last night).
But let's not forget that in 1980 the US squad was made up of a bunch of college kids and was playing one of the truely elite teams of all-time assembled by Russia. Plus it was a medal round game, with the winner advancing to the Gold Medal Game. And add to the mix the spectre of the Cold War at its height.
There is pretty much no way any United States men's ice hockey team can ever top what was accomplished in February of 1980.
What happened last night was equal parts exhilerating and impressive. But keep in mind that it was a preliminary round contest, and that Team USA consists of 23 professional National Hockey League players---yes, younger and less experienced on the whole than many of its rivals, but still not college boys like the '80 squad.
No one was eliminated from the tournament last night. While Canada needs to regroup, find its collective game, and play an extra contest in order to reach the Quarterfinals, they are still very much alive in the Winter Games. Back in 1980, the Russians were ousted from the tourny by a group of exuberant, hard-working kids, and were sent home in utter humiliation. Team Canada, carrying the weight of its host country in Vancouver, might be somehwat embarrassed, but they are far from done.
After the game last night Miller wisely cautioned that his younger teammates needed to remain focused on the task at hand, which is medaling in these 2010 Games, and not revel too much in their exciting win over Canada.
One of those kids, winger Bobby Ryan, was on point when he said, "It's just a game, it really is. It gets us a bye. It gets us a couple days of rest...other than that, I don't think people should read too much into it."
It is that kind of mindset that wins championships, or in this case, medals---whether it be Gold, Silver, or Bronze.
And the road ahead is a difficult one, though made easier, for sure, with yesterday's victory and better seeding in the Quarters. Still, defending-champ Sweden has made a statement of its own winning all three of its preliminary round games---two by shutout, including last night's dominating 3-0 win over their arch-rival, Finland. Russia has shaken off its loss to Slovakia and made a statement, as well, yesterday with a 4-2 win over a very good Czech Republic team, with Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin playing at elite levels.
And Canada will be heard from again. They nearly lost to the Swiss. They were beaten by the United States. Both on home ice in front of a rabid pro-Canada crowd. But this team has too much skill and pride to not rebound during the medal round.
Don't forget, Canada dominated---yes, dominated---large portions of yesterday's battle with the United States. They were physical in both ends and produced glorious scoring chances against Miller, who was just simply superb between the pipes for the US. Clean up their mistakes in the defensive zone, receive an uptick in goaltending---are those deafening roars or what for Roberto Luongo to replace Brodeur?---and Canada will be there battling for a medal.
To me, two plays among the many great ones in last night's truely awesome contest stand out as symbolic of the difference between winning and losing for the United States.
The first was Miller's save on Jarome Iginla during a scramble in which Miller was flat on his stomach and could only raise his glove so high and Iginla, from ten feet out, fired the puck right into the gloved hand of Miller, unable to lift it another few inches with three-quarters of the net wide open.
The other, destined to be a classic moment in US Olympic history, was when Ryan Kesler---a beast all night, by the way---just willed his way to the loose puck and scored the empty-netter setting off that incredible burst of emotion as he was buried by Zach Parise and other teammates behind Canada's goal.
Some luck. Some incredible play. And wanting it so, so badly.
The result, United States 5-Canada 3.
Now, a day to catch our collective breath, then elimination games on Tuesday and the Quarterfinals begin on Wednesday.
Enjoy the ride. But no more comparisons to the Miracle on Ice, please?!