The Miracle on Ice, but Team USA's victory over Canada last night was still pretty special. No one has been talking about the Americans as medal contenders in this Olympic tournament. Indeed, entering the tournament, one would have thought that the only teams competing were Canada, Russia, Sweden, and Finland. My, how things have changed! With Team USA's defeat of Canada's "dream team," and Sweden's victory over Finland, last night, Team USA has earned the #1 seed going into the playoff round. They get a bye, automatically advancing to the quarterfinals, and will play the winner of Switzerland vs. Belarus on Wednesday. Barring a monumental letdown in that game (which is not out of the realm of possibility, of course - after all, this is hockey and anything can happen), this means that they will have two opportunities to play for a medal. If they get past their match-up with either Switzerland or Belarus, they will most likely play Finland or the Czech Republic in the semi-finals. A victory in that game will put them in the Gold Medal game; a loss will put them in the Bronze Medal game. So, things are looking pretty promising for the Americans, who, as I said above, were not really considered to do much in the tournament.
Meanwhile, the two favorites going in, Canada and Russia, will meet in the quarterfinals, unless Germany can pull of a real miracle and defeat Canada, which is highly unlikely. This means that one of them will not be advancing to play for a medal. Canada's sub-par performance against Switzerland a few days ago (having to pull out a victory in a shoot-out) and their loss to the Americans last night have already left their nation, which takes more pride in hockey than in all other sports combined, in a state of disarray and depression. Imagine if they are not able to get past the Russians and contend for a medal! That would be a devastating blow indeed, especially given the fact that they're on their home turf in Vancouver. For many Canadians, the only thing that really matters is the hockey tournament. Even if Canada were to win more medals than all other countries in the games (which they won't), the success of Vancouver 2010 depends on their hockey team winning the Gold. Even now, with Team Canada having left themselves with a steep hill to climb, nothing less than a gold medal for their hockey team will do. That probably doesn't make a lot of sense to those of you who don't know much about hockey, but for those of you who do, you know exactly what I'm talking about here.
As for the Americans, they have already over-achieved and raised eyebrows with their 3-0 record in the prelims, and especially with their emotional victory over the Canadians last night. Unlike the teams from Canada, Russia, Sweden, and Finland, the American roster is not chock-full of NHL superstars. They are a young team, built more on character than talent, more on hard work than flashy, dazzling skill. Plus, they have a hot goalie in MSU alum Ryan Miller, which is a necessary ingredient for success in any hockey tournament. Whether or not their character, hard work, and hot goalie can carry them to the Gold remains to be seen, but with their victory over powerhouse Canada, they have proven that they have a shot. It will be most interesting to see how things play out. For now, it is just nice to be able to revel in this unlikely, but most satisfying, victory over Canada's dream team. And to beat them on their home ice makes it all the more sweet. And to have Brian Rafalski (from our own Red Wings) score two goals and assist on another, right in front of his coach, Mike Babcock (head coach of the Red Wings and of Team Canada), just added even more to the sweetness!
Of course, it must also be said that the possibility exists that Team USA's victory over Canada could prove to be the best thing that could have happened to Canada, in an "Awakening the Sleeping Giant" sort of way. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Canada, now angry and more motivated than ever, advance and play for the Gold. Who knows, maybe just maybe, we'll see a re-match of USA vs. Canada in the final. That would be extra-special. I'm sure Canada would love a chance to avenge this loss, even as the Americans would revel in the opportunity to prove that it wasn't a fluke. So, I'm hoping to see it play out that way, although I know that the Russians, Swedes, and Fins have something to say about that. We'll just have to wait and see. Until then, let's join in chanting together: U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
And to my friends from Canada, especially Pr. Bakker, I suggest that you take solace in the fact that you still have Curling! :)