So, about those Miracle on Ice comparisons for the United States men’s hockey team in Beijing…
It was, as Deadspin’s Eric Blum wrote, ridiculous to compare a victory over Canada in the preliminary round to the all-time upset on Olympic ice. The circumstances in the sport have changed greatly in four decades, and the stakes of the games themselves could not have been different, either in terms of the Olympics or the geopolitical situation.
The way things were shaping up early Wednesday in China, it looked like there was going to be a far more worthy game for the Miracle comparison, as Team USA led Slovakia by a goal in the third period, and got nearly a minute and a half of two-man advantage after a delay of game penalty on Slovak goalie Patrik Rybár.
The winner of the game would go on to the semifinals, where (the) Russia(n Olympic Committee) is also headed after beating Denmark, 3-1, in its quarterfinal matchup. USA-ROC only could’ve been a gold medal game because of the way the seeding worked out, but that was looming as pretty big, if the Americans could get there.
And yes, things are pretty tense between America and Russia these days, both at the Olympics with the Kamila Valieva scandal, and with noted Soviet Union enthusiast and ice hockey star Vladimir Putin massing troops on Russia’s border with Ukraine.
That’s why you don’t rush to apply superlative comparisons in the moment, especially when it’s pretty clearly premature. The other reason is that Team USA did not score on that 5-on-3 in the third period, did not find an insurance goal the rest of the way, gave up a tying goal to former Hartford Wolf Pack star Marek Hrivik, and then lost the game, 3-2, in a shootout that saw only one goal, by Slovakia’s Peter Cehlarik.
One more reason, and one that America could stand to consider more: You might not be the main character in every story. Hrivik’s last-minute equalizer and Rybar’s goaltending now have brought Slovakia to the medal round for the first time since 2010, when they lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze medal game. Slovakia has never medaled in hockey, and to do it without Zdeno Chara, well, that would be a miracle.
And if you want to see Americans with a chance at hockey gold, the women play Canada tonight.