Good morning Fackers. Believe or not, I was planning on running this post this morning even before last night's Team USA win over Team Canada in Vancouver. Last night's game was certainly an upset. But personally, I don't believe it's as big of an upset as many are making it out to be. Either way, it's certainly not half the upset as the one that took place in Lake Placid, NY thirty years ago today.
This is the fourth Winter Olympics featuring NHL players, and the fifth featuring professional players. Hockey wise, we're so far removed from the 1980 Miracle on Ice, that it's easy to lose sight of just how massive an upset that game was.
The Soviet team was easily the greatest assemblage of hockey talent on the face of the planet in February of 1980. With the Iron Curtain still firmly in place, the NHL was still nearly a decade away from importing its first Russian talents. The Soviet National Team featured the best players of - at worst - the second most hockey-crazed nation on the face of the planet. They trained and played with, literally, military precision. They had gone 3-4-1 against the NHL's best Canadians in the 1972 Summit Series, dominated lesser WHA talent 4-1-3 in the '74 Summit Series, and more recently had gone 2-1 with a +5 goal differential against a squad of NHL All-Stars in the 1979 Challenge Cup. For all intents and purposes, the Soviets were a professional All-Star team competing in an amateur tournament.
On the flip side, Team USA was an assemblage of American collegiate talent led by University of Minnesota head coach Herb Brooks. Brooks was the final player cut from the 1960 US squad, a team that went on to win gold in Squaw Valley. Heading into the 1980 Games, that was the final time the Soviet didn't win men's Olympic gold. Brooks' captain was former BU Terrier Mike Eruzione, the team's oldest player at 25, who was three years removed from his collegiate days and toiling in the minors at the IHL level before joining the Olympic squad. Less than two weeks prior to the Miracle on Ice, the Soviets had crushed Team USA 10-3 in the final pre-Olympic warm up.
Something similar was expected on the evening of February 22, 1980, part of the round robin medal round. Instead, on the strength of a goal from Eruzione that proved to be the game winner, the US beat the Russians 4-3. A win against Finland in their next game clinched the gold.
As I compose this post, the post game coverage on MSNBC is declaring last night's game the biggest upset since the Miracle on Ice. It's not even close. It's not even in the neighborhood. The forty skaters to take the ice last night are all high caliber NHL players. Not all are superstars, but all are professionals playing in the best league in the world. Yes, the Canadian roster is absolutely stacked. Yes, perhaps maybe just three or four of the US players could crack the Canadian line up. But in a short tournament - hell even on any given night in the NHL - anything can happen. For a pumped up Team USA to come out and beat Team Canada last night is an upset, and is impressive. But, without even considering the socio-political climate of 1980, last night's game is worlds away from the Miracle on Ice.
That said, yesterday was a great day for hockey. The Big Six all paired up in a trio of good match ups: Eastern European powers Russian and the Czech Republic in the afternoon, the Battle of North America in the evening, and Sweden and Finland in a Scandinavian Showdown for the night cap. We'll see all of them again in the medal round.
As nice as it was to see the US win last night, I was hopeful they would save their upset for the medal round. Canada and Russia are loaded, and with both teams being upset this week, I don't know how good the chances are that they both lose again before it's all said and done. As exciting as it was to see the Swiss push Canada in to the brink in a shootout loss on Thursday, part of me was relieved that Canada pulled it out, postponing their upset for another day.
Still, who knows what will happen over the remainder of the tournament. Perhaps the US can recapture a bit of the Miracle from 30 years ago. Their roster features two defensemen with ties to the 1980 team. Ryan Suter is the son of 1980's defenseman Bob Suter, and my former classmate at Boston College, Brooks Orpik, is named after the coach of the '80 team. Come this time next week we'll know if this is their time. I'm going to enjoy watching it all unfold.