Every four years I attempt to cram as much Olympic action as I can in a two-week span. Growing up a huge Miracle on Ice fan, the Olympic hockey tournament is always tops on my list. It culminated with what some experts are calling the best International hockey game in 30 years. Unfortunately, after tying the game up with 24 seconds left in the final period, Canada and Sid Crosby prevailed in overtime. Team U.S.A. goalie Ryan Miller took home the MVP of the tournament, quite remarkable, as he was on the losing end of the 3-2 border war.
Miller did a phenomenal job filling the role of Jim Craig and providing the secret weapon the U.S. needed to roll over every team until the gold medal matchup. The Buffalo Sabres’ crown jewel between the pipes is no stranger to the hockey world anymore. Team U.S.A. went with a young team who had no fear; they didn’t know or care that their team was not supposed to medal in Vancouver. After besting Canada 5-3 in the preliminaries it was on to the medal round. Trashing the Fins with a half dozen goals in the first period of their semifinal game, while Canada barely escaped Slovakia to set up the rubber match showdown.
The final game was the third most-watched game in United States hockey history (behind only the two 1980 games). Canada went up 2-0 and it looked like it could turn into a lopsided victory for the sea of red shirts cheering for Canada. But the US didn’t quit. Was there ever a better sports moment of true joy better than Zach Parise slapping that puck past Canada’s Roberto Luongo with 24 seconds left in regulation? The only one I can remember is Mike Eruzione’s semifinal game ripping slapshot past USSR goalie Vladamir Myshkin. The Americans, the youngest team in the tournament, skate away with a silver medal and a lot of national pride. Who’s looking forward to 2014?
Though forced by the I.O.C to remove the phrase from his Uncle Sam helmet early in the Olympics, it was definitely “Miller Time.” Miller stopped an incredible 139 shots and only let in 8 in six games. I’m sure his mailbox will be stuffed with autograph requests. Miller won the Hobey Baker Award given to the best college hockey player in the nation at Michigan State in 2001. He’s always been a very willing signer, both in the AHL with the Rochester Americans and up with the Buffalo Sabres. He signed a puck and a picture for us through the mail last year sent in care of the Sabres. Hockey runs in the Miller family blood, as brother Drew plays for the Detroit Red Wings and three of Miller’s cousins have played in the NHL (Kelly, Kevin and Kip).
Go Go Buffalo
Miller isn’t the only Olympic connection to Buffalo. Patrick Kane, the USA’s youngest player at age 21, was born and raised in Buffalo. Kane scored two goals in 2:23 against Finland in the semifinal. He was the first overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft and he made good on the selection by winning the league’s top rookie award. Kane signed a picture from the Chicago Blackhawks’ team address.
Veteran Chris Drury was a teammate of Miller’s on the Sabres. He now is the Captain for the New York Rangers and is also great with the Sharpie.
At 36, Brian Rafalski is the team’s oldest player, and one of just three returning Olympians. This scrappy defenseman was very important in the team’s success and his goal 42 seconds into the first Canada-U.S.A. set the stage for the upset. Like most NHL players, Rafalski also signs his fan mail.
I would be remiss without mentioning another product of Western New York, Rochester native Ryan Callahan. He was all over the ice during his first Olympics and was a big reason the USA’s goals against were kept to a minimum. I need to get a puck and silver paint pen out to the Rangers soon.
With Miller pulled at the end of the Gold Medal game it was Parise who found the net, forcing the game into overtime in desperation time. Parise signs from his home address in Minnesota.
What it Means to Hockey
Several players were asked the same question during the tournament. “What would you rather win: the Gold Medal or the Stanley Cup?” Crosby was asked to compare this win with his Stanley Cup win just last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Every player basically answered the same: both hold a special place. But I think if pushed, the gold medal will always have a more important place in history. This tournament was great for hockey and will continue to push its popularity both in the States and around the world. It’s also a good thing for autograph collectors because most hockey players show class on and off the ice and are more than willing to sign for the fans.