I will be watching the hockey game tonight. You know the one…….
The United States (better known as half of the NHL) will be taking on the Canadian National Team (better known as the other half of the NHL) tonight in tournament play.
It should prove to be quite the grudge match, as Canada handed the US Olympic squad a bitter defeat on their home ice in Salt Lake City. That and Canadians in general take hockey as a national religion. Word is that Canada has ordered the liquor stores closed at 7:00 pm to try and quell the celebrations (or the violence). Get your Canadian Mist and Molsen’s while the getting is good, eh.
I’m hoping for a fast, hard hitting game and may the best team win.
Whatever the outcome, it will pale in comparison to the United States National Team’s victory over the Soviet buzz saw at Lake Placid in 1980. It was a ragtag band of 20 year old college amateurs that defeated the unbelievably fearsome Soviet National Team and at the same time, knocked a chink in the Iron Curtain that was never fully repaired. Forget the fact that they came from behind in every Olympic tournament game but two to ultimately win the 1980 Ice Hockey gold medal.
For that brief moment in time, the entire country stood and cheered in unison. We had throttled the industrial communist sports machine. No matter the black shadows that enveloped the arena when men like Tretiak and Krutov and Makarov skated upon it, the scrappy kids from NCAA hockey were too naive to realize how hopelessly outclassed they actually were.
Go back to Madison Square Garden some months before. The Soviet Team crushed the USA 10-3. The Red Monsters never even broke a real sweat during their offensive blitzkrieg. Mark Johnson remembers Boris Mikhailov showboating for the US bench by throwing in a few quick footwork combinations before slamming it into the US net. The US team was in awe, literally applauding each shot. The Soviets were hockey gods and the US team, although fast and extremely well conditioned, had not paid its’ dues at the alter of Soviet Bloc sports. Nobody gave them much hope of decent showing, much less a medal. The Soviets had won everything there was to win in International Hockey since 1964.
But they shocked the world that afternoon in Lake Placid. Team USA dug in and skated to their full ability without intimidation and defeated the Soviet team in what was both a stunning upset and a underestimation of the speed and talent of the young Americans on the part of the Soviets. Either way, it will go down in history as the greatest all time story in sports.
And some of us were lucky enough to witness via television that Communist athletes were no longer lab experiments or machines. They were flesh and blood with weaknesses and shortcomings. We were there and willed that last 25 foot shot through the outstretched pads of Myshkin as the USA’s offensive set glided silently into the Soviet zone. We vicariously lived the bombastic celebration through a bunch of sweaty wide-eyed kids from places like North Easton and Flint and Madison and Minneapolis and Rochester and Duluth. We hoisted the Stars and Stripes overhead together and believed, even for just that one brief moment, that miracles really were possible.