The Vancouver Olympics marked the 30th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice” when the United States hockey team upset the Soviet Union juggernaut at the Lake Placid Olympics. 1980 was the last time the U.S. won gold in hockey at the Winter Games. The game is one of the defining moments of 20th century American sports.
Unfortunately, we live in the 21st century, an age of multi-million dollar contracts and steroids, where players often seem to only care about money and forget the need to show up for their country. The 2010 U.S. Olympic hockey team proved that there are some players left who love to represent their country. This year the U.S. hockey team almost pulled off one of the biggest heists in sports history—stealing gold from Canada. It was almost Miracle on Ice: Part Two.
Coming into the tournament, Canada was the overwhelming favorite because it had the deepest roster and home ice advantage. Winning anything less than a gold medal would be seen as a national failure. The birthplace of the sport was eager to show the rest of the world that hockey is still its game.
The United States, on the other hand, came to Vancouver with a bunch of kids. The average age of the squad was 26, and only three players had Olympic experience. In the 2006 Torino Olympics, the U.S. had finished eighth, and it was unclear how the young team would respond to the hostile environment. Expectations were not very high.
But after beating Canada once, and crushing Finland in the semifinals, the U.S. entered the gold medal game having never trailed once in the tournament. It was clear that this U.S. team was something special.
The defining moment for the team came in the last minute of regulation during the gold medal game. Trailing Canada 2-1, the U.S. could have easily started packing their bags, content with a silver medal—they had already far surpassed expectations. In a display of national pride and relentless determination, Zach Parise tied the game on a put-back opportunity with less than 30 seconds left. The shot quieted an entire country—the U.S. had crashed Canada’s party. While Canada ultimately came away with the gold thanks to an overtime goal by national hero Sidney Crosby, the game was memorable for the amount of effort and ability U.S. players demonstrated.
What was so impressive about this team is that they bucked the trend of U.S. teams underachieving in world tournaments. This young team was able to forget about money and represent their country with honor and hard work. Many players constantly sacrificed their bodies and dove in front of 90 mph slap shots for the good of their team and their country. This isn’t very common in other sports.
In the World Baseball Classic, the U.S. has managed to place eighth and fourth in the first two years of the event. America, the country that started the sport, hasn’t even seen the podium. U.S. players care more about the regular season because that is when they make their money.
Basketball is the same way. Sure, the United States won the gold medal in 2008, but they only managed to win bronze in 2004. With all the U.S.-born talent in the NBA, we should have no problem winning gold every year.
Because of this group of kids, we know that while money drives sports, there are some who still compete for the love of the game and the pride of their country.