If I wasn’t already bummed about team USA’s overtime 3-2 loss in the gold medal hockey game–more on that in a moment–today we learned that the loss cost America a case of beer. Turns out that President Obama made a little wager with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Had the United States won, Canada would have sent us a case of (Pennsylvania’s finest) Yuengling. The silver lining (pardon the pun) to losing the game, and the bet, is that Obama must ship a case of Molson Canadian up north. That’s one less case of lame beer in America.
I like friendly rivalries, betting, and most of all, beer–but shouldn’t the beer bet have worked the other way around? What sense does it make to send a case of Canadian beer back to Canada? That’s like losing a log-rolling competition to the Scottish and then shipping them a crate of haggis.
As for the hockey loss, and Canada’s supposed entitlement to the gold medal, I say: tthhhhbbbbtt. I watched the American players when Sidney Crosby’s game-winning shot slipped through Ryan Miller’s legs. They were devastated. They fell to the ice as if shot in the chest. They cried. No one has ever looked less happy (except maybe for that whining Russian figure skater) to receive a silver medal.
Further, that the United States can put forward a team to challenge the mighty Canadians speaks to the fact that in some parts of the U.S. (the really cold parts), hockey is king. Tell a diehard Boston Bruins or Chicago Blackhawks fan that hockey is for Canadians. Even some of us with Southern roots grew up watching hockey (Go Chargers!).
Focusing only on viewership in Canada, where an estimated 70 percent watched the game, ignores the fact that plenty of us on this side of the frost line were watching, too. According to the Associated Press, 27. 6 million Americans tuned in, making it the most watched hockey game in the United States since the USA vs. Finland 1980 gold medal game in Lake Placid on Feb. 24, 1980. (For historical comparison, the “Miracle on Ice” USA-Russia semifinal game that aired on tape delay on Feb 22, 1980 from the Lake Placid Games drew 34.2 million average viewers). Not bad for a Sunday afternoon hockey game, aye?
And here’s another reason why the game matters: for all of the United States’ supposed sports dominance, we don’t do well in national team sport competitions. U.S. soccer has made tremendous leaps forward in my lifetime, but our men’s team didn’t advance out of group play at the last World Cup, and with the exception of the (admittedly awesome) upset against Spain last summer, hasn’t won an important game since beating Mexico to reach the round of 16 back in 2002. Our hockey team hasn’t won Olympic gold since the miracle, and even our baseball team can’t seem to fare better than fourth place in the new World Baseball Classic. (Japan has won both titles). The exception to this rule, of course, is basketball, but our national team, when it shows up to play, is so much more talented than the competition–Bronze medal in 2004 notwithstanding–that the games are barely worth watching and usually have the feel of an NBA all-star game: lots of showboating, little defense.
This Olympic hockey tournament was another matter. The U.S. matches I watched were played with an intensity that would match any Stanley Cup* finals game seven. That intensity was what made the games so watchable. I watched the final with a packed house at the Black Horse Pub in South Slope. Zach Parise’s last-second, last-gasp goal was met with a huge roar. (And another round of sweet, Sweet Action). So yeah, I’m tired of hearing about what the win means for Canada. It was an awesome game, and they deserved to win. That doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.
What was I saying about beer?
*Speaking of the NHL, if league officials and owners had functioning brains, they would realize that much of the appeal of Olympic hockey, aside from the national rooting interests, is due to the format. Give me an Olympic-style tournament, rather than a months-long playoff snooze-fest, staged in April rather than June, and I might watch. Also, that NHL owners are even DEBATING whether to pause their league for the next Olympic tournament four years from now is insane. Like millions of casual fans, I had never heard of Ryan Miller or Zach Parise prior to two weeks ago, but I’ll now be looking for these guys. Why would you pass up such a huge PR possibility?