It’s their game, sure. Canada invented hockey. We get that down here in the United States. It’s their game, their national past-time, their pride and joy. Their sons (and daughters, too) dream of playing for the glory that comes with an Olympic gold medal or a Stanley Cup championship. It’s a sport that defines and unites a nation.
It’s our game, too. Maybe not in the same exact way, but in similar ones.
You’ll see that when the U.S. and Canada play in the semifinals of the Sochi Olympics on Friday at 9 a.m. (PST). You’ll see it in the passion and the hard work and the precision each team displays. In many regards, it will be like watching brothers, and maybe that’s because there are so many NHL brothers fighting for a berth in Sunday’s gold-medal game against either Finland or Sweden.
Team USA’s Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick will be trying to deliver a payback to Canada’s Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty for a loss four years ago in Vancouver. The Ducks’ Cam Fowler of the U,S. will be trying to stop Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and keep them from a second consecutive gold medal. Team USA coach Dan Bylsma will be trying to find ways to neutralize Sidney Crosby of Canada, his best player when they’re both on the job with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
And so on and so on.
This is the game they’ll all be chirping about next week, when they return to their respective NHL dressing rooms. It might take more than a few nights of dinner and drinks to bury the hatchets. It might take a few games before their NHL teams are all reunited and feeling so good again. It’s going to be that kind of game Friday.
Sure, this is a game Canada is supposed to win. It is their game. It’s not a game the U.S. can’t win, however. Hockey isn’t an American game the way baseball or football or basketball is. We don’t celebrate Saturday nights at the rink quite the way they do. But we have something of a shared history in the game of hockey, especially internationally and particularly in the way we play the game. Our capacity to defy the odds with our ability to achieve the unthinkable is a shared trait, and a noble one at that. We admire their will to win and they should admire ours, too.
Every Canadian of a certain age can tell you where he or she was when Paul Henderson clinched the 1972 Summit Series victory over the Soviet Union just as every American hockey fan can say where they were when Mike Eruzione scored the go-ahead goal against the Soviets in 1980 in the “Miracle on Ice.”
I remember both moments like they were yesterday, but especially the Americans’ improbable victory, I remember driving to varsity basketball practice when a man on the radio suddenly shouted, “The United States has beaten the Russians 4-3 at Lake Placid.” I pulled to the side of the street and began screaming and honking the horn. It was incredible. It was unbelievable. I was lost in my own little world until I looked across the street and saw a man, screaming and honking his own car horn. We noticed each other and screamed and honked in a shared celebration.
ABC’s Channel 7 wouldn’t air the tape-delayed game for a few more hours in Los Angeles, but the man in the other car and I already believed in miracles.
So, here’s hoping for that kind of Henderson/Eruzione drama Friday.
It’s something we can all appreciate, Canadians and Americans.
Because it’s a game for all of us.