VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Only five players on the U.S. Olympic hockey team were born the last time their country won the gold medal.
Americans who experienced that famous victory in Lake Placid 30 years ago will never forget it, but for many younger fans, it lives on only in books, highlights and an occasional movie. Today, this young U.S. team has a chance to earn its own moment in the sun with another unexpected triumph.
“It’s unbelievable the amount of excitement that’s going on back in the U.S. right now about our team,” American Ryan Callahan said. “I think that’s good for hockey all around.”
The last day of the Vancouver Games is shaping up as the most dramatic, with the U.S. facing Canada for the gold medal in the sport the hosts care about most. The Americans already jolted hockey fans everywhere with a 5-3 win over Canada in the preliminary round last week, but they’ll need to repeat the feat if they want to take home the gold.
If the U.S. does win, it won’t be nearly as shocking as the 1980 victory. This year’s team is full of NHL players who will become opponents again after leaving Vancouver. It’s a far cry from the group of amateurs that knocked off the mighty Soviets three decades ago.
But it’s hard to underestimate the boost today’s game could provide for the NHL, which is trying to recover from losing a season to a lockout in 2004-05.
“Obviously, the NHL right now is trying to get its fans back a bit,” Callahan said. “I think a game like this brings everybody’s excitement up, and it’s good for everybody to have a matchup like U.S.-Canada in the finals.”
The first U.S.-Canada game last weekend was shown on the MSNBC cable network, where it was seen by 8.2 million people, according to the Nielsen Co. That tied election night 2008 as the most-watched event on that network.
“I think it’s catching on,” said defenseman Ryan Suter, whose father, Bob, played for the 1980 gold medalists. “For hockey that’s big, so we’re happy and hopefully it continues growing.”
The U.S. entered this year’s Olympics an underdog, but not a big one.