Team USA men’s hockey scores big win against mighty Canada

Team USA beat Canada 4-2 in Beijing.

Team USA beat Canada 4-2 in Beijing.
Picture: Getty Images

In fact, an American team made up mostly of NCAA players beat a veteran Canadian team 4-2 in the preliminary round of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing late Friday night.

Fiction, it was like the “Miracle on ice.”

Ahe comparison to one of the greatest upsets in modern sports history is silly. This took place at the Olympics and involved young Americans eliminating a more experienced team from another country. This is where the comparisons end.

Let’s not take everything away from this American team. He allowed a goal 84 seconds into the game, a bad goal that starting keeper Strauss Mann should have dodged, casting doubt on why United States coach David Quinn walked away from Drew Commesso, who stopped the 29 shots he faced in the team’s tournament opener against China. The rout could have started from there. USA victories over Canada under the five Olympic rings are rare, the last one coming in Vancouver on February 21, 2010.

That 4,374-day streak ended in part because of a quick American response, with captain Andy Miele leveling the game with a quick backhand 70 seconds later, ending the only streak in the game where the U .S dragged. Were Canadians vulnerable? Miele’s goal looked easy. As Canadian goalkeeper Eddie Pasquale moved in early, he committed a shot lower into the net, leaving a large lump above his left shoulder open. It’s not a game you see in the NHL and if the league allowed its players to compete in Beijing, Canadian starting goaltender and Philadelphia Flyer Carter Hart probably would have made a better effort.

That’s the biggest difference in these Olympics. While the NHL also wouldn’t allow its players to play in Lake Placid games in 1980, the oldest American to win gold 42 years ago was 25, then captain Mike Eruzione being one of the oldest. Three American skaters were 23 or older. They had no close equivalent to Justin Abdelkader, who turns 35 at the end of the month and has lifted a Stanley Cup in his dozen years of NHL experience. The “Miracle on Ice” was also against the Soviet Unionfour-time reigning Olympic champion and one of the most dominant teams ever assembled, in the medal round. No country has lost more from the NHL’s separation from Beijing than Canada. Abdelkader needs to be closer to the American’s overall cut line than Eric Staal, 37 years old.

If Hart, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and the greatest talent pool in world hockey came together for the Olympics and the currently deployed American roster beat them deeper in the tournament, then we would have some kind of legit comparison. Of course, we know the end result for these Americans. They won gold, the last time the country did. This Russian team was almost unbeatable on the world stage, a streak stretching back to 1960, its last time without winning gold before the “Miracle on Ice”. Conveniently, it was also the last time the Winter Olympics were held on American soil in Squaw Valley, California near Lake Tahoe and the only other time the United States won a gold medal.

As a lifelong Washington DC-area native, knowing that Canada chose former Capitals Daniel Carr and Daniel Winnik to wear a red maple leaf in Beijing shows how far Canadians have had to go to find the best players available. They’re no slouch, but neither has been a mainstay in the NHL since 2018, with Carr never quite making it to the top pro league in the world. It will be a fun and engaging tournament to watch. But let’s not pretend Staal, the tournament’s biggest star, is in the top flight. He is currently the third best Staal. His brothers, Marc Staal and Jordan Staal, would likely both have been considered with the NHL rosters available to Canada.

Another reason why the “Miracle On Ice” tag may not apply here is for off-ice reasons. Canada and the United States are not on the brink of war. The USSR was invading Afghanistan. There may be a global pandemic going on, but there has been no diplomatic tension spilling over the ice in Beijing. Where was the equivalent “Soviets: get the puck out of Afghanistan” sign? Non-existent due to crowd limitations.

What could translate for the USA is the confidence of a victory over the International Ice Hockey Federation No. 1 team. These Americans have proven themselves, not together and not on such a big international stage, but we will hear the names of Matty Beniers and Miele in the years to come. Even as the youngest American, Beniers might be Beijing’s best player. The gold won by the United States will not be a miracle. And it’s a credit to how far the sport has come in the country since Lake Placid.

Catherine J. Martinez