Sunday, February 23, 2014

USA hockey. Hype and reality

"I told you sos" are typically low-class but, with apologies to Garth Brooks, I've got friends in low place too -- and they deserve it. Besides, they'd do the same thing to yours truly. I'd be getting hammered if things had turned out differently. But they didn't -- so it's my turn.

Not long ago, the USA ladies' Olympic hockey team was crushing everybody they played. 7 or 8 goal winning margins almost came to be expected. The typical American sports hype machine was cranking out the propaganda. Nobody could beat these girls. The gold medal is a lock.

Wait a minute, I said, eventually they're going to have to play the Canadian squad -- perhaps in the gold medal game -- and that's no lock. Those girls are really good too. The Yanks could even get beat. I was shouted down. Well, we know how that turned out. After all the pomp and presumption of greatness -- the Americans wound up with a silver medal. Not bad, by any means, but certainly a disappointment for the south of the border folks.

On the men's side, the holier-than-thou attitude was even worse. In a preliminary game, the USA defeated the host Russian squad. So what happened? NBC trotted out Al Michaels -- the guy who uttered the immortal phrase, "Do you believe in miracles?", when the Americans had pulled a huge upset over a vastly superior Soviet Red Army team -- A FULL 34 YEARS AGO.  Michaels interviewed Vladislav Tretiak, the losing goaltender in that game, and wanted to know how it felt to watch the Americans celebrate. In the US, this passed as nostalgia. Yet methinks the rest of the world likely considered it just one more example of American arrogance. Other than rubbing salt in a very old wound -- just how, pray tell, was such an interview even remotely relevant to the Sochi Games? There are precious few current Olympic hockey players that had even been BORN back in 1980. How much do you think they care about that?

Then something somewhat unexpected happened. Finland knocked Russia out the "tournament". There would be no medal, much less gold, for the Russians. This had to come as a huge disappointment in the host country.

In the meantime, the Americans and Canadians were headed to a showdown in the "semifinals". Very quietly, and under the North American radar screen, Finland would take on Sweden in the other semi. But at that point -- at least in North America, nobody cared about the Scandinavian game. It was like the Canada/US matchup was the heavyweight championship of the world.

My same friends in low places, along with countless scribes, and legions of everything from politicians, to glitterati, to athletes in other sports, to the everyday garden variety hordes of twitterbrains, all said the same thing. The boys are on a roll. Canada's going down.

Not so fast, I said. Last time I looked, those guys up north are still the real deal. They're not about to roll over and play dead just because of American hype. They're going to bring it -- hard. In fact, they might actually win. And BTW, just when is the last time the Americans beat the Canadians in Olympic hockey anyway? Try 1960. Don't believe it? Look it up. History says WE'RE going down. Holy sacrilege and blasphemy. One would have thought I was suggesting Bieber might open up a can of whup-ass on Peyton Manning. Needless to say, this was not well received either.

But we know how that game turned out too. Up, up, up, went the Americans riding their usual national fervor. Down, down, down, went the hockey team when it counted the most.

[Idle thought. Seeing as how American President Obama had a case of beer wagered on both the women's and men's hockey outcomes with Canadian Prime Minister Harper, seems to me he owes 48 brews to his northern counterpart. One can only hope he mans up and delivers them in person to Ottawa. It would be the honorable thing to do, but I wouldn't count on it.....]

Oh, BTW, though it didn't get much attention west of the Atlantic Ocean, Sweden quietly defeated Finland in the other semi.

That meant the USA and Finland had to play for the bronze medal. They did. Finland 5, USA 0. In the world of big-time hockey, 5-0 isn't just a win -- it's a flat-out beatdown. So after all the hype, like their Russian rivals, the Americans find themselves in the unenviable, and perhaps embarrassing position of not having won ANY medal.

Today, Canada and Sweden play for the gold. No doubt, everybody from Nova Scotia to the Northwest Territory is firmly convinced the gold medal is in the bag. And they might very well be right.

But yours truly has been saying all along (refer to earlier post titled "Olympic hockey semi-finals. Interesting", and dated 2/20) that Sweden's going to win it all in the end. While the USA, Canada, and Russia were busy touting their own greatness, the Swedes neither need nor want the hype. They just quietly keep getting it done. And they're certainly loaded with talent.

We'll all know in a few hours.....

No comments:

Post a Comment