OK, OK, OK … so it’s no 1980 … not even close. These were NHL’ers and not spunky amateurs. This was the friendly rivals to the North, America’s Hat, not the evil Red Army. This is a preliminary round event, not a key final weekend clash. On the other hand – it is Canada, and when you looked at the lines they rolled out there, their fans have a right to think that a medal is a birthright. After all, they comprise a majority of the NHL demographically. Kids grow up wanting to be Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux – or at least having those sorts of mullets. So while this is no 1980, it is 1996 to a degree.
Then of course, we had the World Cup of Hockey, which DID feature professionals playing for national pride and glory and stuff. Like that one, Canada of course was the 800 pound gorilla with its Gretzky squad. The US had some successful NHL players, but really were only contending because of having a superior netminder. In 1996, it was Mike Richter, while this year it is Ryan Miller. Brian Burke, the GM of the United States side in these games, took a major step away from the team that rose onto the world stage in 1996 – turning the team almost completely over to its youth. Players like Jack Johnson, Bobby Ryan, and Zach Parisse were put to the fore (the US is the youngest team in the tournament) with key veterans (Chris Drury, Jamie Langenbrunner the captain) supplying some presence. So, still – this was quite the upset.
Like many upsets, the Americans needed some luck early – and it came in the form of a Brian Rafalski goal 41 seconds into the proceedings. This got the Americans to play from in front, and that was invaluable. Given the sudden thunder Canada brought as the game moved on – and their amazing 45-23 shots on goal advantage, that the US was never in danger of losing contact was big. The team could play a smarter, counter attack based game. The Americans got a lot of shot blocking and defense ahead of Miller – and whenever Canada scored, the US would return quickly. And then there was Miller – 42 saves, many difficult, outplayed Martin Brodeur badly. The team has counted on him to be their best player, and he was. Canada might need to look elsewhere for goaltending inspiration – Marc-Andre Fleury makes sense, even if he is their #3 goalie right now.