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Ode to Ryan Miller: U.S. netminder stands proud; even in defeat, American goalie brings back memories of McCartan and Craig

While talent and hard work are always part of the equation, the difference between winning and losing at the elite level of sport is sometimes a matter of old-fashioned good fortune.

Yesterday’s gold-medal game between Canada and the United States, to me, was an example of that. Either team could have won.

I have to believe that most observers would say that yesterday’s game was a marvelous display of hockey. Two teams playing with grit, intensity and smarts. Canada had a bit more pure talent on paper, a bit more offensive pop, but the American side matched Canada in terms of heart and determination, for sure.

Ryan Miller was at the top of his game in this event, as he has been most of this season. His performance evoked memories of successful American Olympic goalies from generations past—albeit in different circumstances, given that Miller is a highly—paid professional and his predecessors were far from that when they played in the Olympics.

But watching Miller yesterday, I couldn’t help but think about Jack McCartan (pictured left) and Jim Craig (right), who had led their U.S. amateur teams to stunning Olympic upsets in 1960 and 1980 respectively. Both those Olympic events had been held on U.S. soil. McCartan played briefly in the NHL with the Rangers shortly after the ’60 Olympics, and settled in for a lengthy pro career, mostly in the minor leagues and much later the WHA. For his part, Craig signed with the Atlanta Flames (they had drafted him) right after the Olympics, played a few games there and in Boston the next season but never found success at the professional level. (An interesting historical note is that Craig was traded to the Bruins for two draft choices, one of whom turned out to be Mike Vernon, who would later lead the Flames-turned Calgary Flames to the Stanley Cup in 1989.)

Miller, of course, is a star-caliber goalie who has never played in the NHL for anyone other than the Buffalo Sabres. You could see and feel his determination throughout this event, and he and his U.S. teammates were true champions in this tournament along with the Canadians.

I’ve never been a believer that an outcome like yesterday’s proves the superiority of one team. Had Canada won 6-0, as they did against the Russians, that’s one thing—though it’s still just one game, and not a best-of-seven series, for example.

But when you tie 2-2 in a winner-take-all contest, and then win in overtime playing 4 on 4, to me it proves nothing in terms of who is “better”.

That said, we Canadians can rightly feel proud of our team, as can those Americans who care about hockey—and the value of hard work.


• I wonder if Luongo has definitively established himself as the top Canadian goalie for future competitions? It was time to move from Martin Brodeur, who has carried the Canadian torch so well for so long. But my sense is the jury is still out on Luongo as a “pressure goalie”. Did he steal any games for Canada? I may well be wrong. We’ll see in the spring.

• Credit the Team U.S.A. for their last-second tying goal. But even those of us who are not hockey coaches could see there shouldn’t be two Americans in behind both of Canada’s defensemen before the Parise goal was scored.

• The Crosby winner reinforced just how smart a player he is, as he made a play, then went to open space. It also demonstrated again why Iginla is such a fine player—and so popular. The Calgary leader made a deft play to set up the winner while being taking out of the play. Crosby wasted no time in firing home the winner. (While from a different angle, Iginla’s effort still reminded me a bit of a play Lecavalier made in the playoffs when the Lightning won the Cup their few years ago. Lecavalier took a cross-check in the mouth to make a play that led to a goal. It was the kind of tough, gritty play his coach, John Tortorella, had been pushing Lecavalier to make to become a complete player.)

• It’s way more rewarding to win a tournament with a number of top teams involved. Losing on occasion makes winning all the more meaningful. If Canada was cake-walking through these events, what fun would it be? Whether it’s the World Cup, the annual World Championships every April, or the Olympics, a number of countries can win—certainly Russia and Sweden can, and now the U.S., to go along with Canada. Finland is a proud hockey country, and there are other nations who have the ability to win a tournament, as well.

• While I’m still a bigger fan of the NHL playoff format than what the Olympics can provide, wouldn’t it be great to have at least a two-out-of-three series to decide the outcome in the Olympics? That said, if it came down to a longer series, Canada’s depth would have shown itself. They had the deepest roster by far in this event.
Now, on to the trade deadline—and the rush to the playoffs.

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