- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2010

For the United States, it wasn’t how it was supposed to end.

Reduced to a bystander as a delirious crowd as Canada Hockey Place celebrated Sidney Crosby’s overtime game-winner to give the host Canadians the gold medal, the Americans could simply watch as their bid to upset the hosts twice in the same tournament fell just short in the extra session.

“It stings right now,” U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller told the Associated Press, having stopped 33 of 36 Canadian shots Sunday - many in spectacular fashion.

“It’s devastating,” defenseman Jack Johnson told AP. “It was the biggest game any of us have played in.”

But once the disappointment fades, the U.S. can recognize how well they did despite carrying just three Olympic veterans from the silver medalists in Salt Lake or the eighth-place team at Turin - not to mention the tournament’s youngest roster at just 26.5 years - by beating the favored Canadians once and pushing them into overtime in the rematch with the gold medal on the line.

To illustrate how young this club is, consider this: the “Miracle on Ice” occurred 30 years ago on Feb. 22, 1980 - and only five of the 23-man roster was even alive on that date.

When the U.S. held their camp of Olympic hopefuls back in Chicago in August, there was question on how the team assembled by USA Hockey’s Jim Johansson and the Toronto Maple Leafs tandem of Brian Burke and Ron Wilson would fare.

While the U.S. has some good young talent in the NHL, many of the invitees raised some eyebrows and some bigger names and USA Hockey veterans were bypassed. But USA Hockey wanted to build a cohesive team that could compete with the more talented-teams from Canada, Russia and Sweden — not necessarily an all-star squad, but a team representative of a program that has become one of the most competitive in international hockey in recent years.

When the final roster was announced at Boston’s Fenway Park, many heroes of past U.S. hockey teams were nowhere to be found, leaving the impression this team was built to gain international experience - should the NHL opt to send players to Sochi in 2014.

But, as Burke said before Sunday’s gold-medal contest, there was method to his apparent madness.

“We’re not asking 30-goal scorers to do grunt work. We’ve got grunts to do the grunt work,” Burke told reporters. “When we put this team together we tried to identify people who were good at specific tasks. And when you have that, these are not players who are going to [complain] about ice time or positional play. They’re not going to turn to the coach and say, ‘Why am I not on the power play?’ Because they’re not on the power play at home, either.”

In the wild format of the Olympic tournament, even though the U.S. struggled in their opener against Switzerland, the team found their legs in a 6-1 win over Norway. The Americans were able to ride a tremendous 42-save performance by Miller in a 5-3 upset of Canada and earn a bye - and avoid some of the more formidable foes in the single-elimination phase of the medal round and pave their way into the gold-medal game.

The U.S. survived a tremendous performance by Swiss netminder Jonas Hiller in the quarterfinals, but then absolutely throttled Finland in the semifinals to become the first U.S. team to go undefeated through five games in 50 years.

Then, despite facing a virtual red-out in the gold-medal game against a team that knew gold was its only goal, the U.S. fought back from a two-goal deficit with Zach Parise pushing the game into a sudden-death overtime session with just :24.4 to go - and forcing Canada to put its nationwide celebration on hold. At least for a little while.

Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, in the running for the NHL’s top netminder award, the Vezina Trophy, certainly put on quite a show in Vancouver, earning the MVP of the tournament - despite not being on the tournament champions. Miller made himself a household name for two weeks, recording a 1.35 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage to put the U.S. just one goal out of the top spot of the podium.

Zach Parise, who skates for the NHL’s New Jersey Devils - and ironically the son of J.P. Parise, who played for Canada in the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union that is revered north of the border - also made a name for himself, scoring four goals and eight points in six games, not to mention the game-winning goals against Switzerland and Finland in the medal round. Parise also scored a memorable goal with :24.4 left in the gold-medal game to force overtime, and nearly helped the U.S. author a tremendous upset.

But despite not having the star power as teams like the Russians or Swedes - two teams who didn’t even make it to the podium - the U.S. plan worked to near-perfection, as the team was able to play well, only trailing in the gold-medal game and able to erase a 2-0 deficit in that contest.

So while the U.S. players headed back to their NHL clubs amidst a city deleriously celebrating their overtime loss, they can take solace that the once no-name team made quite an impression south of the border.

And, as 2002 silver medallist Chris Drury - who also had to watch Canada celebrate a gold medal at E Center in Salt Lake City eight years ago - simply summed it up to AP.

“No one knew our names,” he said. “People know our names now.”

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