North America Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us: USA vs. Canada
God, Jesus, Buddha, and Vishnu sat around a table, watching hockey. They loved it, but Buddha turned to God and said, “What if we took the NHL, and just blew it up! All new teams, like a fantasy draft, but for real. And we’ll add in players from the other best hockey leagues in the world, too, like the KHL and the Elitserien!” And ye, God did look upon Buddha and say, “That’s a bitchin’ idea, Buddha, but let’s pair them up by country so they care super hard.” And so there was Olympic hockey.
Meet the New Boss – Team USA
Oh what a difference four years makes. Like a wide-eyed freshman unsure how to pronounce “Jagermeister,” Team USA’s 2014 roster has matured into a big, bold, burly upperclassman. They were the underdogs in Vancouver, for reasons broader than cartographic geography. They still bore the scent of that Miracle team: scrappy, with far fewer marquee names than big, bad, Hollywood Team Canada. Call it fifty shades of Eruzione. And so when they lost the gold medal, or won the silver, depending on time of day and who you ask, it was a bittersweet bite from a fruit called “Crosby.” No one expected a silver medal, to have the United States officially named the second-best hockey team in the world. It was, in all senses, a victory. But this time…
But this time things are different. That steam whistle you hear playing “God Bless America” is the sound of a red white and blue freight train headed straight for Sochi. While respectable, competitive teams like Slovakia and the Czech Republic field two or three NHLers and a host of KHL and domestic heroes, Team USA features an entire roster of all-stars from the top hockey league on earth. One goal on Sunday against Slovenia credited the goal and both assists to NHL team captains. This is not your father’s cold war hockey team. These are monsters, and they’re on our side for once.
Just listen, as the shepherd hark’ed upon the herald angels: Kane. Kessel. Callahan. Kesler. Carlson. Quick. Oshie. Orpik. Pavelski. Backes. Brown. Et glorious al. Our backup goalie? Ryan Miller. With notable (and laughably Detroit) injuries to Sweden’s Henrik Zetterberg and Russia’s Pavel Datsyuk, the latter still operating on a tetrademensional plane of hockey val halla DESPITE his injury, Team USA is poised to duke it out with Canada for a syrupy apology-laden gold medal.
Team Canada is Un-Eh-Voidable
And speaking of things that go “sorry” in the night, Team USA’s yellow brick road runs straight through Los Provinces. Team USA’s Wednesday quarterfinal opponent will be the Czech Republic, who lost to lowly, Lindt’y Switzerland 1-0 in group play. Assuming the United States dispatches these pretenders, they would face the winner of Canada vs. Latvia - who cares, they’re playing Canada in the semifinals.
Of course, in Vancouver the gold medal game saw Sidney Crosby score in overtime to give Team Canada the win, and as I ironically drank myself to death on Crown Royal and Molson and muttered the fevered nonsense of a madman,”Not him, god, not him, why,” what I felt was not injustice, but the cold hard wallop of reality. The better team had won.
But hell, if you want to exorcise some demons, we can get a P90X class going this year. Team USA’s path to gold could feasibly go through both Canada and, on their own ice, Russia. I want that more than I want just about anything.
What Yay’s in Sochi Stays in Sochi
I do feel a bit like a cheating boyfriend, however. I hate Brooks Orpik with every fiber of my being. I hate him down to my gooey nougat core. He’s a Penguin and for that he must die. But, damnit, he’s an American, and I cheer for him when he has the puck.
It’s an almost voyeuristic joy to relish in this once-in-a-leap-year opportunity to hear the fantastic, the faerie Emrick echo of “Malkin to Ovechkin, over to Datsyuk!” or “Sidney Crosby across to Rick Nash!” It’s the kind of thing I hope to be greeted with when I die. And so I indulge, and I shut the blinds, and I lock the doors, and I cheer for a defenseman from the Penguins and a forward for the Rangers and I thank god over and over that I’ll never have to root for Sidney Crosby.
Sweet Jerseys, or, “Uni-Bombin’”
On a less geopolitical note, one of the best parts about Olympic hockey is the jerseys. Sweden rocks a minimalist three-crown logo that looks like the letterhead of an offshore banking firm. Russia’s away jerseys feature a chess piece undergoing the final stage of cell mitosis, and Slovenia snuck into the Seahawks trash bin and took the left overs.
I bought a knock-off 1960 Team USA hockey jersey when I lived in China. I bartered down real cheap, and told the shop keeper I didn’t give a damn where it was made. I got it home, and the crest on the chest, right about the “U” in U-S-A, did not say “USA.” It said “ANUS.” I guess that’s what I get.
The Czech Republic plays Team USA on Wednesday in Sochi. Let’s hope that what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming will, through the perilous fight, still be gallantly streaming.