SOCHI, Russia – David Backes realizes every U.S. Olympic hockey team inevitably ends up in the vast shadow of the 1980 Miracle on Ice squad, which stunned the Soviet Union and eventually won gold in Lake Placid.
Although the American players who held their first practice in Sochi on Monday night know all about the greatest achievement in U.S. hockey history, they think it’s time for some fresh heroics.
After all, this is the first U.S. Olympic hockey team featuring no player born when the Miracle occurred.
“I think the Miracle obviously is a great accomplishment for the U.S., but it was 34 years ago, and we’re still living on something that happened 34 years ago,” said Backes, a two-time Olympian. “As great as it was, and as awesome an accomplishment, I think the guys here would like to write our own chapter, and then we can talk about ’80 and 2014.”
The U.S. team doesn’t have the flashy offensive talent showcased by Canada or Sweden. The Americans certainly don’t have Russia’s national imperative to win gold, not even after their own 34-year Olympic championship drought.
Yet captain Zach Parise and his teammates didn’t exactly sneak in the side door at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.
The Americans are a proven nightmare in international play with their combination of workmanlike play and stellar goaltending. While the hockey world focuses on Russia’s collision course with defending champion Canada over the next 12 days in Sochi, the U.S. team is quietly determined to reach the tournament final for the third time in the last four Olympics – and to leave with a better result.
The U.S. team lost the final to Canada in Salt Lake City in 2002 and again in Vancouver. Two silver medals in three Olympics are undeniably impressive, but not what the Americans are aiming for when they begin play Thursday against Slovakia.
The Americans got another reason to work hard Monday when they learned they won’t be joined in Sochi by the man who led the committee that picked them for the Olympic team. David Poile must stay home in Nashville for further medical treatment after getting hit by a puck last week in Minnesota.
Poile assembled a team that seems capable of competing against everything it will see.