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No Comparison 02/23/2010

Posted by sportretort in Sports.
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The US had much to celebrate during their upset of Canada

The USA defeated Canada Sunday 5-3 in the final preliminary round game for each team. The victory gave the US first place in their preliminary group and a buy into the Quarter finals on Wednesday. Canada, the home team in the Vancouver Olympics, and Russia had entered the games as the favorites to win the olympic gold. The US victory has been compared to the USA upset of the Soviet Union in the semi final round of the 1980 olympics at Lake Placid, New York. Not having won a gold since that year, it is fair to say that this is the biggest upset since then, but does it even deserve to be mentioned in the same conversation?

The US team in Vancouver is made up entirely of NHL Players. GM Brian Burke decided to bring a fresh approach to this team, so of the 23 players on the roster, only 3 have prior olympic experience. additionally, at an average of 26 1/2 years of age, the US team is the youngest in the tournament. Despite not having the star power of Canada and some other olympic teams, the US squad has 3 NHL team captains on their roster. This is a team mentioned as a medal contender, and a long shot for a gold. The 1980 team was made up entirely of US collegiate players. Back then, the US still held to the armature spirit of the Olympics, and there were low expectations for the team, as many other teams were considered ‘profesional’ by comparison. The Soviet Union team had not lost a game in international competition in 12 years. Their 1980 squad had defeated a group of NHL all stars in a ‘challange cup’ game 6-0 in New York in the months just prior to the Olympic games.

The back drop to the Lake Placid games was one of strife and uncertainty. Unemployment and inflation rates were rising, there were long lines at gas

The March 3, 1980 SI cover captures the miracle

[stations due to an oil shortage, and the nation of Iran was holding 53 americans hostage in the US Embassy building in that country. In addition, the USSR had recently invaded Afghanistan, and there was talk of a US boycott of the Summer Games to be held in Moscow later that year in protest. The Cold War was still raging, and the American psyche was low going into those games. The American hockey team exceeded expectations in pool play with a tie in the opening game as their only blemish. They had made the medal rounds, and their reward was playing the USSR in the semi finals. Fair or not, with the economic and political backdrop that existed at the time, the game match up was viewed by many as not only a hockey game, but also a slice of the cold war. And what a game it was. If the US and USSR played 20 games that year, the US SR would probably have won 19 times. This game was that one chance for the US. We all know the story. The overmatched kids from the USA overcame all odds and prevailed against the Soviet machine. They also secured the Gold 2 days later.

By comparison, the game against Canada, while an upset, was not close to that magic day in 1980. The game was not even an elimination game. Both the USA and Canada are alive in the tournament, and, if things fall right, may even meet in the semi finals or finals. The disparity in talent is no where near as great as it was 30 years ago. While it is true that the US is experiencing some rough economic times currently, the mood of the country is no where near the funk that gripped this land during Carter’s last year as president. And lets face it, as an evil adversary, Canada is no USSR. So the back drop is different, the times are different and the opponents are different. The victory over Canada was an upset, but no where near the upset of 30 years ago. That group of young Americans did more than pull off the greatest upset in the history of sports. They helped the nation feel better about itself during one of the lowest points of national confidence since the founding of this country.

The 1980 team is still USA Hockey's last olympic golden moment. The achievement is still the greatest upset of all time

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