It goes without saying that history runs deep between the U.S. and Russia. From the time when they were the two most dominant super powers on the planet (both politically and athletically), to today, there is something about these two countries competing against one another that fills their citizens with fire.
There is perhaps no better instance of this competition than the "Miracle on Ice," when an overmatched Team USA managed to defeat the heavily-favored Russians during the 1980 Olympics held in Lake Placid, New York.
Audiences in both countries were again treated to a fantastic hockey game Saturday, and more than anything, it perfectly illuminated the Olympic spirit.
|Photo by: Jonathan Nackstrand|
With a little over 15 minutes to go in the contest, the Russians appeared to have taken the lead on a strong shot by Fedor Tyutin. Amidst the celebration by both the home crowd and Russian International Team, the officials started a review process. No one in the play-by-play group knew what was going on, as there was seemingly no reason the shot should have been reviewed.
They were even more flummoxed when the referee came out and waved the goal off.
It was then that it was pointed out that the net was off the moorings before the goal had been scored, which, according to international rules, negated the point. Once play resumed, neither team really made much noise.
In the overtime period, both squads struggled to get much of anything going. The only real chance came when Patrick Kane managed to breakaway from the Russian defense and streak towards the net. At that moment, my throat tightened. I felt my friend lean forward in his seat, and I swear he temporarily stopped breathing. Alas, the room filled with groans when Kane's shot was corralled by Sergei Bobrovsky.
Then came the extras. We all nervously stared at the screen hoping that the U.S. could put the game away. The outburst when T.J. Oshie scored on his first attempt was not overwhelming, but it was strong. Jonathan Quick stayed big in the net, making sure the Russians had no conversions in the shootout after two tries. After Joe Pavelski failed to convert his scoring opportunity, the tension in the room really ratcheted up. We watched as Ilya Kovalchuk picked up speed on his way towards the goal, and everyone let the outbursts fly as he blasted a shot past Quick to keep hope alive for Team Russia.
Kovalchuk was sent out immediately after to attempt another shot, but Quick saved it. As Oshie skated back on the ice, we all speculated on what he was going to do next. We were just as surprised as "Bob" when he pulled up and was staring at a wide open net, and equally disappointed when his shot sailed over the bar and gave the Russians another opportunity to claim victory.
By now, though only myself could be counted as a regular follower of hockey, we were all fervently glued to the television.
We watched as T.J. Oshie and the Russian duo of Datsyuk and Kovalchuk battled it out. We moaned when one of the Russians scored, and screamed when Oshie matched. Nervously fidgeted after Oshie missed, and yelled in frustration when "Bob" made a great save. Finally, it came down to another Oshie shot, after Kovalchuk was denied by a stretching Quick. The 27-year-old center moved in and again went five hole. The room exploded as we watched the puck bounce the drink bottle belonging to the Russian tender up into the air.
As I was putting my shoes on to rush home to record my thoughts, I stopped momentarily to look at the smiles on the faces of my friends. The two of them, as far as I'm aware of, had never watched a full hockey match. But on this day, we all cared. We cared because the Olympics make us. Even though we're not the enemies we once were, it's still a big deal when we beat the Russians, regardless if we fully grasp what we are watching or not.
Congratulations, Team USA. The day was yours. The memories will be ours forever.