Yup, I cried.
I cried when I saw Ryan Miller crying. I cried when they played ‘Oh Canada,’ and the entire arena belted out one of the great anthems ever written. I cried at the looks on the faces of the American players who should feel nothing but pride.
The National Hockey League is thinking of not taking part in the 2014 Olympics? Are you kidding me? Let me tell you something: SPORTS doesn’t get any better than what we saw on Sunday afternoon in the Olympic gold medal game. Sure, the Hollywood ending didn’t happen; the Ottawa ending happened. This would NOT have been Miracle on Ice II for the U.S. (actually Miracle on Ice II was 1980; Miracle on Ice I was 1960) but it would have been an extraordinary achievement.
Playing in front of a rabid pro-Canada crowd, falling behind 2-0 early, coming back to tie the game with 25 seconds left in the third period and then sending it into overtime was simply amazing. An overtime goal for a gold medal would have been one of the most memorable moments in recent sports history—certainly in recent AMERICAN sports history.
But Sidney Crosby wouldn’t let it happen. You can say a lot of things about Sid the Kid. He’s reviled here in Washington because Capitals fans believe Alexander Ovechkin is a better player than he is but—in their minds--the Canadian/American media (outside of Washington) won’t give him his due because he’s Russian and Crosby is Canadian.
Ovechkin is the more spectacular player. He’s likely to have the goal-of-the-year just about every year. He’s extremely physical—maybe too physical. The only truly great player who was comparable when it comes to getting his elbows up was Gordie Howe. His numbers are better than Crosby’s and he’s less prone to injury—although he did miss some time early this season. And he’s won back-to-back MVP’s.
There’s just one problem. Crosby has his name on The Stanley Cup. In fact, his team has reached The Cup finals two years in a row. And now he has scored arguably the most important goal in his country’s history—the overtime shot, off a gorgeous pass from Jerome Iginla—that beat Ryan Miller and won the gold medal for Canada.
There is no way to understate how important that goal and this game were to Canada. Hockey is THEIR game. The country went into a near-panic a week ago Sunday when the U.S.—thanks to a remarkable performance by Miller—beat the Canadians 5-3 in group play. That meant Canada had to play Russia in the quarterfinals—that would be a Russian team led by Ovechkin. The Canadians routed the Russians then slipped past Slovakia in the semifinals to set up the rematch with the young American team.
The only U.S. player who is considered a big-time star in the NHL is Miller, the Buffalo Sabres goalie who many think is the best goaltender in the game right now—especially with Martin Brodeur finally showing signs of wear because the New Jersey Devils insist on playing him EVERY single night at the age of 37.
Canada made a rousing comeback the second week of these Olympics after a slow start. Even though the U.S. set an all-time record for medals in a Winter Olympics (37—a somewhat deceiving mark because there has been such an increase in events in the past several Olympiads) the Canadians roared past everyone to set an all-time record for gold medals with 14.
But all of that would have seemed hollow to many Canadians if not for the 14th gold—and Crosby’s shot. The memory of Zach Parise’s tying goal after goalie Roberto Luongo (who replaced Brodeur in net for Canada after the first game against the U.S.) couldn’t handle a shot with the U.S. net empty at the other end, might have haunted the country for years. To lose to the U.S.—whose previous Olympic successes were generally considered home-ice flukes around the world—on Canadian ice might never have been lived down.
That’s why you couldn’t help but feel good not so much for the Canadian players as for their fans when Crosby scored in overtime. But when you saw the faces of the American players, so spent, so drained, so STUNNED that they had lost after they had tied the game, you couldn’t help but feel awful for all of them but especially for Miller, who clearly felt responsible for the loss.
The great ones always feel that way. Miller was brilliant the entire tournament. He was voted the MVP even though his team didn’t win. But you can bet he won’t remember the dozens of saves he made but the one that he didn’t make. If anyone deserves some kind of happy ending in the future it is Miller, who in addition to being a superb player, is about as bright and thoughtful as any athlete you are likely to meet anywhere.
As for Crosby and Ovechkin, well, the one score that matters is now Crosby-2, Ovechkin-0. Crosby has a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal. Ovechkin has never been past the conference semifinals and has no Olympic medal of any kind. Of course that can all change since both players are so young.
The next Olympics will be played in Russia. The favorites should be the Russians, led by Ovechkin, who will not yet be 30. What’s more, his Capitals appear to be a better team than Crosby’s Penguins this season. They’ve beaten them in both games they’ve played, coming from behind both times. They are well ahead of them in the Eastern Conference and appear likely to be the No. 1 seed in the east. Of course the trading deadline can always change things. Last year the Penguins acquired Bill Guerin at the deadline and he was a big difference-maker in Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup run.
I wrote a column in The Washington Post at about this time a year ago saying the Caps needed to make a trade for a goalie if they wanted to win The Stanley Cup. I just didn’t think Jose Theodore had what it took to get through four rounds of postseason. A lot of Caps fans posted comments basically saying, ‘what the hell does this basketball writer know about hockey?’
Maybe nothing. But Theodore got yanked after one playoff game and was replaced by Semyon Varlamov, who played very well but, in the end, not well enough. He is still the Caps future in goal—if he can stay healthy. I’ll say what I said a year ago: George McPhee needs to make a move this week for a goalie. A solid defenseman wouldn’t hurt either: check the Caps goals-against numbers recently.
That’s for later. This weekend was about one of the most dramatic hockey games every played and even if the outcome was disappointing for the U.S. it was still absolutely brilliant—the whole thing. And ‘Oh Canada,’ can make you cry, well, BEFORE a hockey game much less after one as heart-wrenching as Sunday’s.
Hockey absolutely belongs in the Olympics with the world’s best players on the ice. Unlike basketball and tennis where the pros are dragged kicking and screaming to play more often than not, these guys WANT to be out there. Which makes it even better to watch—the joy and the heartbreak. I’m exhausted.
There was one other great Olympic moment this weekend and that was Steve Holcomb and his three teammates winning the four man bobsled—the U.S.’s first gold medal in bobsled in 62 years. Holcomb looks more like your UPS guy than an Olympian but who the heck cares? He and his ‘Night Train,’ teammates beat the seemingly unbeatable Germans to win the gold medal. Seeing their coach, Brian Shimer, leaping into the sled after they finished brought back another cool Olympic memory—Shimer, in his fifth and last Olympics in 2002, winning a bronze medal in his very last Olympic event…
Finally, one brief comment on Mr. Anonymous who actually ripped me Friday for NOT having satellite radio after I had already made fun of myself for it and then claimed I should be ashamed for standing up for a CHARITY event (yo dude, the point isn’t that I’m involved in the charity it’s that the charity raises lots of money for kids who need it). So here’s my question: Why are so many Georgetown fans ALWAYS angry? They need to be calm and laid back…like me.