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Team USA defeats Canada in Olympic Classic

I sat down last night and flipped on the USA-Canada Olympic Hockey Game on MSNBC?! (we’ll get to that later) with every intention of taking notes for today’s column about Ohio State’s gigantic win Sunday afternoon in the Breslin Center over Tom Izzo, Sparty & Co. when something strange happened.

I got absolutely no work done.

Transfixed by the most engaging sporting event since Tiger’s press conference, I found myself completely engrossed in Olympic hockey Sunday evening. The underdog Americans defeated Canada in Olympic hockey for the first time since many, many decades before I was born and it truly made for fantastic television. 

En route to a 5-3 win Sunday night over Canada, Team USA was outshot 45-23, including 14-4 during a third period barrage from the Canadians as they tried desperately to even the score. Even so, Canada was unable to deliver the knock-out blow to goaltender Ryan Miller who was magnificent, stopping 42 shots.

And when Ryan Kesler added an empty-netter at the 19:16 mark of the final period, the decidedly pro-Canada crowd was left completely shell-shocked.

The good news got even better for the Americans after last night’s late-game when Sweden defeated Finland, 3-0, giving the Americans the top seed in the entire tournament. Consequently, Team USA gets a bye into the quarterfinals Wednesday afternoon when it will take on either Belarus or Switzerland–the same team that took Canada into a shootout in the second game of the preliminary round last week.

A day short of the 30th Anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice” and donning duds nearly identical to those worn by the ’80 team, the Americans played  an inspired brand of hockey we have not seen since the last time the Team USA took gold in the Olympics, at Lake Placid.

The similarities don’t end there, either. 

Often referred to as young, inexperienced kids the 1980 team was littered with college students with no professional experience playing in their very first Olympic Games. Though much is often made about the fact the U.S. Olympic Hockey Confederation now uses NHL players to fill its international rosters, the reality of the situation is the average player on the 2010 edition of Team USA is 26 years old and 20 of the 23 players on the squad have no Olympic experience whatsoever.

There’s more, American defenseman Ryan Suter is the son of Bob Suter, who was a defenseman on the 1980 team and defenseman Brooks Orpik is said to be named after Herb Brooks–the head coach of the “Miracle on Ice” team; my goodness, the similarities are endless. 

Perhaps even more impressively, in 1980 the Americans were playing on home ice and thus served as the darlings of the dance. Last night Team USA, playing in rival Canada, was treated to a level hostility not unlike when American soccer plays in Mexico City.

I don’t want to get too carried away. After all, this wasn’t even a medal game and it certainly wasn’t the “Miracle on Ice” but last night’s contest was nothing short of classic.

How classic? Yanks versus Canucks made me switch the focus of this column from the aforementioned Buckeyes road win at Michigan State yesterday, which is saying quite a bit because that was an extremely important victory for Ohio State. 

By defeating the Spartans Sunday afternoon, the Buckeyes grab firm hold of second-place in the Big Ten with three pretty-winnable games remaining on their regular season schedule. Ohio State remains a game behind fourth-ranked Purdue for Big Ten supremacy, but the Boilers still have to travel to tournament-minded Minnesota and host Michigan State.

The Buckeyes hit the road to face Penn State Wednesday night before coming home to play Michigan Saturday afternoon. The Buckeyes then host Illinois a week from tomorrow in the conference finale.

In retrospect, perhaps it was a bit presumptuous to expect Ohio State to go 3-0 at Illinois, home to Purdue and at MSU as I did. To escape that little gauntlet 2-1 with road victories in Champagne and East Lansing, a season-split with the Boilermakers and the tie-breaker against Michigan State is actually quite good.

photo: Sports Illustrated

To finish 3-0 the rest of the way would ensure Ohio State no worse than a second-place conference finish and if Purdue stubs its toe down the stretch, the Bucks could even wind up with a share of the conference crown.

It was a tremendous victory for the Buckeyes yesterday afternoon. On a day when Evan Turner was forced to play with flu-like symptoms and was therefore not himself and both post-players, Kyle Madsen and Dallas Lauderdale, were plagued with foul trouble the Buckeyes were able to hang on for the victory. Nevermind the fact they blew an 11-point halftime lead and trailed by a point with three minutes to play.

That’s how big Team USA’s win over Team Canada was last night. It was one for the ages, for the record books, a true Olympic classic that you may one day tell your kids about–as long as you had access to cable television.

Let us all in unison give a hearty “do better!” to NBC for failing to air last night’s classic nationally on its network.

Holy crap, MSNBC?! What a joke. Though, Keith Olbermann isn’t bad.

Ring. Ring.

Nate: Hello?

Nate’s lawyer: Nate! You don’t want to make political jokes in your columns. You’ll end up systematically alienating your entire readership, including your mother, sisters and future in-laws.

Nate: Whatever. Only like five people read me, anyways.

If I’m NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman right now, I ain’t too happy. C’mon, you have a television contract with NBC, last night’s game was almost exclusively NHL players, as a league you’ve worked tirelessly trying to restore your image and get people watching the game again and the network doesn’t air the game nationally. Not a good effort out of NBC in that regard.

Other than that glaring error, the telecast was quite good. Mike Emrick is perhaps the best play-by-play guy on television regardless of sport. He’s absolutely brilliant and you should check out Olympic hockey if for no other reason than to listen to Mike Emrick call the game. It’s pure poetry.

Fortunately, the Olympic hockey action is just heating up and the top-seeded Americans are in fine position to play for a gold medal. Heck, it’s not inconceivable they could rematch with Canada. If that happens, maybe NBC will air the game nationally.

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