It was no “Miracle on Ice,” but Team USA turned a lot of heads on Sunday night when they defeated the Canadian men’s ice hockey team in a 5–3 upset. The Americans have won against Switzerland yesterday, and they are advancing to the Olympic semifinals — but if their match against Canada proved anything, it was a poignant reminder that personal determination in absence of others’ confidence can make champions.
Stakes were high in the game NBC announcer Eddie Olczyk called “tremendously tremendous,” which attracted the largest Canadian television audience of any sporting event in history. Before the game, Jeff Klein and Charles McGrath of The New York Times wrote that only two U.S. players would have been good enough to join the Canadian squad. After the Sunday and Wednesday games, they may have to add a few more.
Still, the U.S. has a major talent deficit. The team is the youngest in the Olympics, with an average age of 26.5 years. And they have nothing like the star power of the Canadians, with hotshots like goalie Martin Brodeur and captain Scott Niedermayer.
If that weren’t enough, the Canadians were playing on home ice. The stands bled with red maple leaves, and barely a handful of American flags dared rise above the most impassioned crowd Canada has mustered since the mounties volunteered for the Second Boer War. (Though admittedly, the Canada crowd wasn’t all that aggressive: as goalie Ryan “Millsie” Miller told the New York Times, “It was actually the most polite trash talking I’ve ever heard in my life.”)
Every prediction was against the Americans, along with nearly every fan in the crowd. They had, in short, no outside encouragement. Even Ron Wilson, coach of Team USA, didn’t give his own team much of a chance. As he told nhl.com after the game, “In fairness, Canada probably outchanced us 2-to-1. Canada, I personally think, is the best team.”
But the American players brought an unmatched internal resolve to the game. Facing a brutal Canadian offense, “Millsie” denied 42 of 45 shots on goal, methodically blocking and recovering with exceptional perseverance. And though they only scraped together 23 shots, the American offense showed outstanding restraint, waiting to shoot until they saw the sweet spot.
The Olympic Games may have started as a show of athleticism, but it’s not why NBC paid hundreds of millions of dollars for Vancouver’s broadcast rights. What attracts viewers, especially to the winter games, isn’t the competitors’ sheer physical prowess or technical mastery — it’s the thrill of knowing that anything can happen.
Let’s be honest — chances are, if you watched the skeleton competition, you didn’t see much more than I did: skinny prostrate spandex suits gripping an elaborate variation of the Divinity-School-hill cardboard-box-sled. Nordic ski jump technique is pretty much opaque to me. But anyone can read the determination in the athletes’ faces as they prepare for that final run, denying the possibility of failure in a shot at Olympic fortune that only comes once every four years. Anyone can be hypnotized watching years of training manifest in the thousands of correct decisions they make every second — while one wrong choice can wreck their hopes.
These are the stories sports movies are made of.
And the U.S.-Canada game would make a blockbuster: Even when all the odds were against them, even when the shouts “U-S-A!” from the stands were largely drowned out by shouts of “Canada”even when they knew they were outmatched, the U.S. men’s hockey team was dedicated to success. They marched on with nothing to sustain them but the wild hope that they might pull through. And they triumphed.
The team represented a country that was founded with wild hope and succeeded because of dedication. It was wild hope and dedication that brought the same team to victory against the Soviets thirty years ago. It is wild hope and dedication that drives American activists, patriots and politicians to make this country a better home.
On the silver screen, it all makes sense: Even if no one on the sidelines is cheering for you today, with some of your own wild hope and dedication, you can be sure that someday they will.
Benjamin Miller is a senior in Morse College.