Historical inevitability and the Olympics go together like ice hockey and playoff beards. For Team USA, a sweet 7-1 victory over Slovenia is the prelude to the future that’s important because of the past — if you follow. If you don’t, it’s possible that you haven’t heard of the Miracle on Ice, the 1980 Olympic match between the Soviet Union and Team USA. It took place at the height of the Cold War, and the USSR team had been running roughshod over professional NHL teams. The expectation was that they would continue to blaze through the Olympic teams as well.
Back in the dawn of the ’80s, an Olympic team was an amateur affair. Anyone making their living from athletics was not allowed to enter, owing to a strange idea that it would pervert the spirit of unencumbered competition in the games. Due to a curious workaround, the USSR team was housed practiced together, and played together for eleven months of the year on the same “club,” or team. Not professionals at all.
So, when Team USA, with an equally dubious “amateur” team made up of collegiate players (although, in their defense, Team USA had to at least show up to classes), beat the USSR in Lake Placid, New York, it was the biggest game of the tournament — even if it wasn’t for the Gold (which the Americans would clinch with a victory over Team Finland.) The Soviet team was a straight up dynasty — and Team USA had beaten them. There was much cheering for intangibles, capitalism, and other things that seem remarkably quaint 34 years later. Now, in 2014, the Olympics are in Russia, rather than the Soviet Union, professionals are allowed to play in these reindeer games, and the fate of the free world isn’t riding on the outcome.
As of this writing, Team USA has recorded a single victory in the preliminary round. That gives them three points since they didn’t need an overtime or a shootout. Out of the twelve teams competing for gold, exactly none of them will be eliminated after this round. What’ll happen instead is that each team will play two more preliminary games, and the top four teams (based on standings and how each team fairs against it’s own group — which we’ll cover in a second) get a by into the quarter finals. The other eight teams have to fight it out in single elimination for the remaining four slots.
- Czech Republic
So with a victory against Slovakia, Team USA scored three out of three possible points (three for a win, two for an overtime or shootout win, one for losing in overtime or a shootout) and are 1-0 against their own group. A victory over Russia would give them up to six points, and keep them undefeated against their group before they play their last qualifying match against Slovenia, who were just defeated by the Russians. Due to that, a three-point victory win against Russia would almost certainly guarantee Team USA a spot in the quarterfinals.
This leads us to Ryan Suter (pictured above), the link between the past and the present. Ryan, a defenseman for Team USA when he’s not holding down his day job with the Nashville Predators, is the son of Bob Suter, one of the members of the Miracle on Ice team. Even though the Berlin Wall is down and the Russian team features NHL goofballs like Alex Ovechkin, it’d still be pretty sweet to see Team USA come away with a win.