The USA Men’s Hockey team walked out of Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver on February 28, 2010 with their heads hanging low, dragged down by the silver medals around their necks. For Team Canada, the party was just getting started.
American and Canadian hockey fans have been replaying that game over and over again in their minds for the past four years, but for very different reasons. For the Americans, it was the amazing comeback that almost was. A game that would have put the Bruins 5-4 win in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs to shame. Because this game was for all the marbles. This game was for the chance to hear The Star Spangled Banner ring throughout the home of the Vancouver Canucks. This game was for the gold medal.
Team Canada was up 2-0 halfway through the second period when Ryan Kesler cut the lead in half tipping the puck past Roberto Luongo. Team USA struggled relentlessly for the rest of the game to tie it up, but the tying goal wouldn’t come until goalie Ryan Miller was pulled and Zach Parise buried a loose puck in the back of the net with 24.4 seconds remaining in regulation. Overtime it was.
Both teams took very different paths to reach that gold medal game. Team USA breezed through the preliminary round undefeated, including a 5-3 win against the Canadians. Earning the bye for the qualification round, the Americans easily skated to the finals allowing only one goal total in the playoff round against Switzerland and Finland.
The Canadians on the other hand were forced to compete in the qualification round following their loss to the United States, but went on to outscore their opponents 18-7 in the playoffs. They then found themselves facing the one team they couldn’t beat thus far in the tournament for the gold medal game.
After an intense 67 minutes and 40 seconds of play and a persistent come-from-behind effort, Team USA was finally sent back to the States when Sidney Crosby slipped the puck five-hole on Miller. Team Canada won 3-2. O Canada rang out through the arena to the tens of thousands of screaming Canadian fans. Team USA missed the closest chance they had to finally take home another gold medal in ice hockey since the 1980 Miracle On Ice.
Four years later and Team USA’s chances are just as high. The Americans have 13 members of the 2010 team returning for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi including nine of the 13 forwards and both starting goalies. The Canadians have 11 players returning from the 2010 team, including all five goal scorers from both teams from the gold medal game.
Experts are all but certain that this year’s gold medal game will be a rematch between USA and Canada. Both teams are undefeated so far in the preliminary round with USA routing Zdeno Chara and the Slovakians 7-1 and the Canadians barely sneaking by with a 3-1 win over Norway on Thursday and the Canadians posting a 6-0 shutout over Austria on Friday.
Team USA will play Team Russia on Saturday at 7:30am followed by Team Slovenia at the same time on Sunday morning. The Canadians will finish out the preliminary round on Sunday at noon against Finland. Then the real fun begins with the playoff round beginning next Tuesday.
While hockey fans across North America set their alarms a little bit earlier over the next week and a half, there’s a very good chance that for one country all the extra cups of coffee will be more than worth it.