Hockey battle a game for the ages

There are moments in life when all seems right in the world. I remember feeling that way when the American hockey team scored a shocking goal with seconds left in regulation during their gold medal hockey game against Canada last Sunday. As the buzzer sounded to end regulation and the Zamboni came out to fix the ice for overtime, I remember being in a very happy place in my mind.Coastal Point

I was excited and hopeful for overtime. Though I went into the game expecting Canada to beat our team by a few goals, I had become a believer — inspired by the gritty effort of the Americans, and confident that goalie Ryan Miller could protect our net long enough for the scrappy Americans to manufacture a winning score. Alas, talent ultimately prevailed, and Canada earned their 14th Olympic gold medal in hockey when superstar Sydney Crosby slid a shot past Miller for Canadian glory.

And I wasn’t the least bit disappointed.

That was a great game. One of the joys in watching sports is the rare treat you come across — that game that can transcend personal fandom and stand on its own merit.

Two teams, loaded with multi-millionaire stars from the NHL, playing for love of the game and their respective nations. I still get chills from thinking about the images of the crowd splashed across my television screen, the joy of the Canadian players as they exploded after Crosby’s goal and the hurt in the faces of the American players. They wanted it. And they gave every ounce of energy they had trying to get it.

As I was watching the game unfold, I couldn’t help but take a mental vacation back in time to 1980 in Lake Placid, N.Y., when the Americans truly shocked the world in claiming hockey gold. The semifinal game against the vaunted Russian team was the one that sticks out in my mind the most, and announcer Al Michaels carved out a permanent place in my brain when he wrapped up the final seconds in the game with his memorable line, “Do you believe in miracles?”

As a 10-year-old sports fanatic, that game meant the world to me. I had a poster over my bed of the Americans celebrating their win with the headline, “Miracle On Ice.” That poster stayed up on my wall until I moved away to college at 17.

Actually, it was moved once, to cover a hole I had managed to put in the wall with an errant throw of my sister’s head. You can’t pin that one on me. She was a royal pain in the...

But I digress.

This isn’t about the 1980 U.S. hockey team. This is about the 2010 squad. There are too many differences between the two to make an equation, and I’m fairly certain the current team was pretty tired about hearing the comparisons. The 1980 team was a team of amateurs, not NHL stars. Their major competitor was the U.S.S.R. team, and they were a veteran group that had been together for years — as well as the fact that they were representing our biggest Cold War enemies in the heart of the Cold War.

But this team had its challenges, as well. Having NHL players on its team meant that Canada did, too — and there are many more Canadian stars in the NHL than Americans. The Olympics were also being held in Canada this time around, providing the kind of boisterous support for the Canadian team that the Americans enjoyed in 1980. And, well, let’s be honest. This game meant a lot more to the Canadians than it did for us. Hockey is our fourth biggest professional sport, behind football, basketball and baseball. In Canada, hockey competes with curling. And cutting logs real fast in flannel.

But our team competed. They played fast, checked hard in the neutral zones and got terrific goaltending from Miller throughout the tournament. It was easy to get behind their efforts, and equally easy to appreciate the greatness and grit of that Canadian team. Had they not put forth their best work, the U.S. team would have won it all.

I’m not big on moral victories in sports. You either win, or you don’t. And the American team didn’t.

But, as a spectator, you really couldn’t ask for more in that gold medal game. Either team could have won, and the best team did. But it sure was fun.