February 28, 2010
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- It's the Olympic hockey equivalent of the walk of shame: The long, winding catacomb of barriers bringing players from the ice through the media to the locker room. On Saturday night, Slovakia made the walk; on Sunday, it was Team USA, taking little joy in the silver consolation prizes hanging around their necks.
Which is unfortunate, of course, because the Americans accomplished something here that's bigger than a 3-2 overtime loss to the host nation. They were the underdogs, and defiantly rolled through the tournament undefeated until the gold medal game. Ryan Miller(notes) became a household name. Ron Wilson polished the tarnish from his time in Toronto. Players like Chris Drury(notes) proved critics wrong. Zach Parise(notes) became America's clutchest forward, and Brian Rafalski(notes) its sage defenseman, despite not being able to thwart Sidney Crosby's(notes) golden goal.
"Not really. I know it's an Olympic medal, but in a tournament like this, nothing but gold ... it's what we came here to do," said the Los Angeles Kings winger. "I'm sure a few years down the road, we'll be proud of it. But not right now."
Parise was more to the point: "It sucks. It sucks being that close and then losing in overtime."
It's impossible not to have a felt a twinge of destiny in Parise's tying goal with 25 seconds left in regulation. Miller had steadied himself after surrendering two goals, looking impenetrable again. The Americans were peppering Luongo. The gold appeared in reach.
Then Jarome Iginla(notes) ended up with the puck in the offensive zone during the 4-on-4 overtime. Crosby called for it. Iggy made a backhand pass to him, and Crosby put it past Miller, who was trying to aggressively defend his net.
"I think the puck got caught up at the ref's feet at the half wall. Sidney was walking out as a lefty, and he had his head down for a second. I've been aggressive all tournament and I wasn't going to change my game because it was overtime," said Miller.
Despite the OT goal, Miller was spectacular again. "He was our MVP, that's for sure," said winger Bobby Ryan(notes). "I think we played well. Tough night. Tough building. Everybody handled the adversity well, and battled to the very end."
Crosby's goal meant a bittersweet moment for Team USA defenseman Brooks Orpik(notes), Sid's teammate with the Pittsburgh Penguins. "He's one of those guys who, in a big game, steps up his play. You never want to lose. But if we're going to lose, I'm happy he had success."
Orpik was one of the veterans who said the shock of settling for silver instead of winning gold will subside. "The initial sting hurts a little bit. But you let the dust settle, you get some time to reflect, and I think they will be pretty proud of what they accomplished," said Orpik.
"We had a really good group of young guys who came through our development program in Ann Arbor. They've got a lot of good years ahead of them. Hopefully down in the States, [the game] was viewed by a lot of people and it grows that game even more," he said.
That was a theme for the Americans throughout this tournament: Growing the game. Giving the fans back home something to tell their casual fan friends about. Proving that American hockey talent has caught up with that of the Canadians.
"It's just a shame that both teams couldn't receive the gold medal today. Sometimes the best team in the tournament doesn't win the gold medal. I thought our team played as well as any team I've ever coached," said Coach Ron Wilson.
"I'd like to congratulate Canada. They played a great game. At the same time I say that, I think we played as equally a great game. I think both teams are winners, and more than anything hockey in general. I couldn't have asked anything more of our players. They did us proud."