ESPN Classics was a great idea when it began. Run classic games of all sports so people can relive their childhoods. Then they began instant classics — games that the second you finish watching you know will be remembered for years to come. Most of their “instant classics” are just mediocre games. Last night’s US-Canada Olympic hockey match, however, was a true instant classic (at least if you bleed blue in addition to red and white, and especially if your name does not end in Brodeur).
There is something about building a team — not just a collection of all-stars — that more often than justified results in surprising results. The players know their roles. And when players know their roles, particularly what they are not, they thrive. It started up top with Kane and Rafalski, trickled down to Brown and Kesler, and made its way down to Drury and Callahan. Everyone played a key role. I love watching teams play team hockey.
That said, the US would not have won without Miller playing spectacularly, Brodeur playing like it was a pond hockey game, and Canada playing tighter than a wet t-shirt at Daytona Beach in March. To win the gold (or even medal) the US needs to play a simpler game. There were too many times we got fancy. That would have worked against Belarus, but will not against Canada (most nights) or Russia. We’re at our best playing a dump-and-chase game. Only strategic pinching, and slowing the game down. We do not have the offensive firepower to overcome repeated neutral zone turnovers. The PP needs to convert. Too much time spent trying to set up. But…if we play this game we have a good shot at gold, especially if Russia-Canada meet in the semis.
One other point. Let’s stop this “greatest US victory since Miracle on Ice” or even the “greatest victory since 1960″ talk. Those were amateurs, or at least certainly not top NHL players. While even the most die-hard American must concede that Canada is far superior in hockey, that does not mean that our top 23 (all NHLers, virtually all of whom are all-stars) are not on the same plane. This matchup was not David-Goliath. It was more akin to Penguins-Rangers. The US is a team that on any given day can beat Canada (obviously), but which over 7 games may win just 2 of them. It is a clear mismatch, but not one of epic proportions. Saying otherwise is a disservice to all American hockey fans, and certainly to the team.