February 21, 2002

Marc It Down: "Miracle on Ice", redux?

For the umpteenth time, NBC will hype a US-Russia rematch of their classic 1980 hockey game. ... Do I believe in miracles? Yes, I do, thanks to a hockey team in 1980. Will we see a miracle from the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team this time, as we did 22 years ago? No, I don’t think so. Sure, the U.S. can very possibly win against Russia and maybe win gold after that. Canada is struggling and whining. The last two Olympic champions, Sweden and Czech republic, are out already. But winning a medal or even just beating the Russian team and advancing further will not be a miracle, not like 1980 in Lake Placid. It was a common belief that the Soviet team of 1980 was among the greatest assemblage of hockey talent ever. Maybe that’s just revisionist history, building Goliath up to be bigger and badder than it really was, but the Soviets were known, respected and feared in international competition. Just seeing the “CCCP” skate onto the ice was enough to deflate the egos of many teams. Way back then (when I was a little tyke complaining that my skates were too tight and I was learning to skate by pushing a folding chair around the ice), the best players in the world who grew up west of the “Iron Curtain” would turn pro and play in leagues in Europe and North America. The best of the West did not play in the Olympics. International competitions, such as the Olympics, did not allow professionals: players who were paid for playing hockey. The Soviets weren’t paid for playing hockey, but they didn’t exactly have to earn a living, either. They were officers and enlisted men in the Red Army, and, as such, their wages were covered and their families taken care of while they practiced, trained and played and played. The only fighting they ever did for their country was between the dashers and goal lines, with sticks and cross-checks, with speed and passing and stifling goaltending. Do you think the Yankees expect to win the World Series every year? Presently, yes, that’s their frame of mind. Well that’s the frame of mind the Soviet teams had back in the day. The USSR won Olympic gold in men’s hockey in 1956, ’64, ’68, ’72, ’76, ’84 and ’88. (See the two gaps in the pattern, 1960 and 1980: those golds were won by the United States on home ice.) Soviets won the world championships 22 times from 1954 through 1989. Can you say dynasty? I can, and I spell it CCCP. The story of the United States team from 1980 is well-known. College boys, the best home-grown amateurs of their day. Average age: 22. Some were collegiate champions. Do you think these Davids worried the Soviets, who were trained on a strict diet of hockey and borscht? By contrast, today’s United States team is full of Stanley Cup winners and the best professional players with American citizenship. Average age: Metamucil-minus-10 years. Worries about next week’s sociology paper: none. Today’s Soviet team is non-existent. After the wall came down, the best players bolted for the money of the NHL and other professional leagues in Europe. Today’s team from Russia has NHL’ers. Some are teammates of their American counterparts. The players they check in the Olympics are their linemates in an NHL city near you. I do believe in miracles, but miracles are born of long odds and imagination and fantasy. In 1980, I would have said to a friend, “Can you imagine how fantastic it would be if the U.S. beats the Soviets?” Ha, yeah right, that was likely. Today, I can only imagine what Brett Hull will say to Sergei Federov in the Red Wings’ locker room next week if the U.S. beat the Russians and go on to win gold. “Dude, that was cool.” ... Other sites worth checking: Good site about the legendary Soviet teams Get your 1980 USA and CCCP jerseys here

posted by msacheson to commentary at 12:07 AM - 0 comments

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