U.S. past ‘miracle’ stage in Olympic hockey (except vs. Canada)

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source: AP
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SOCHI, Russia – This seems to be the Olympics when everyone around United States hockey officially got sick of the Miracle on Ice. Well, it was inevitable. With the Olympics being in Russia, with famed Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak (who was pulled in the Miracle) lighting the torch, with my generation reaching the age of cloying nostalgia and with the U.S. men’s team looking for its first Olympics hockey gold since that 1980 team, everything pointed to overkill.*

*Which I happily participated in.

Thing is, hockey in America is nothing like it was in 1980. This was the point the U.S. hockey team kept hammering. Everything has changed. Now, professional hockey players are at the Olympic. Now, the U.S. team has some of the best players in the world. Now, the U.S. team has speed and size and depth that is the envy of almost every hockey-playing country in the world. When the U.S. team played Russia this time around, it was the Americans who were favored, and the Americans who played the villains when they got a favorable call and won in a gritty shootout.

So, yes, everybody was ready to move on from the constant reminders about a bunch of college hockey players who won a gold medal 34 years ago.

Trouble is, to get people to stop talking about the Miracle on Ice, you have to stop losing one-goal games to Canada when it matters most.

VIDEO: Highlights from Canada’s 1-0 win

The U.S. did lose another one-goal game to Canada in an Olympic semifinal Friday … this after the U.S. women one day earlier lost a crushing one-goal game to Canada in the gold medal game … this after the U.S. men lost a crushing one-goal game to Canada in the gold medal game in Vancouver, one of the most famous hockey games ever played.

To be fair, the United States’ 1-0 loss to Canada was different from the others. It felt cleaner and did not leave much room for regret. That’s because the Canadians pretty thoroughly outplayed the Americans. Was it not for some head-stand saves from Jonathan Quick – “our best player tonight,”  U.S. coach Dan Bylsma said – the score easily could have been 3-0 or 4-0.

Meanwhile the “0” on the American end of the score was more or less locked in. It is hard to imagine a team playing more suffocating defense than Canada played Friday. The U.S. power play was rendered all but useless. And other than a couple of moderate chances early and Paul Stansny’s point-blank shots in front in the second period, the U.S. rarely even threatened to score.

VIDEO: U.S. can’t find an empty net in final minute

The game was played at a high level—the speed on the ice was mesmerizing — and it was entertaining in its own way. But it really was quite a let-down from the famous gold medal game of four years ago. Well, for one thing that was a gold-medal match, while this was a semifinal just to see who would play Sweden for gold. That was a quirk in the seeding, and it definitely altered some of the emotion.*

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*Though back home, the “Loser Keeps Bieber” campaign – featured on a Chicago billboard and trending on Twitter – certainly created some fire.

Then there was the quiet. Here you had the two best hockey teams on earth – two of the most talented hockey teams ever put together – and it was so eerily quiet in the Bolshoy Ice Palace. Every now and again, a hearty soul would try to start up a U-S-A chant or beg the Canadians to finish one of their numerous goal-scoring chances and then it would dissolve into stillness.

Much of the time, the arena was quiet enough to read bedtime stories aloud.

So strange … but then maybe not. No event at these Olympics brought so much pain to the host country as hockey. The Russian hockey team lost to the U.S. in the aforementioned shootout that was, for many Americans, the emotional peak of these Olympics and was for Russian fans the very symbol of fraud. A goal-ahead goal by the Russians was nullified because the cage of the net was slightly off its mooring. Russians who even conceded the point that the net WAS off still believed that U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick had been the one to knock it off. Angry fans demonstrated in Moscow. Television networks replayed the disallowed goal again and again.

Then, more disconcerting, the Russian team disappeared in a 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Finland that featured no controversy and also no life from a gifted collection of Russian players who never quite came together.

So, it is logical that there simply wasn’t much enthusiasm left for the sport. Tack on the Russians’ famous reticence – something that various non-Russian figure skaters noticed during their soundless programs – and what you had was a striking lack of energy and volume. We grow so used to the biggest sporting events being loud and the tension being almost tangible.

But Friday, early in the second period, Canada’s Jay Bouwmeester – a tough defenseman not necessarily known for his playmaking abilities – slapped a pass that Jamie Benn deflected over Quick to give Canada that 1-0 lead. And then the rest of the game just kind of melted away almost unnoticed. Those sounds you associate with a close and important hockey game – the roars for developing chances, the groans when shots slip wide, the gasps when the winning team narrowly escapes – were largely nonexistent. It was a bit like being in a Vegas casino with no clocks. Time just gushes away.

VIDEO: Jamie Benn’s shot the only goal

In any case, the U.S. never came especially close to tying the game, and Canada came very close to extending the lead and it was clear, on this day anyway, that there’s still a gap between Canadian and American hockey. Maybe this is as it should be considering how intently Canadian life revolves around the sport (some 80 percent of Canada watched at least part of the 2010 gold medal game).

But it is a blow for a United States still trying to move past the Miracle on Ice. Bylsma made the point after the game that U.S. hockey is at a place now where it hardly needs a miracle to win a gold medal. He’s right, of course. All the U.S. really needs is a couple more goals against Canada. Thing is, that’s the proving to be about as elusive as miracles.

AVP set to start season without Kerri Walsh Jennings

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BOSTON (AP) — The AVP said it has reached an agreement with “practically all the players” on a contract that will carry it through the 2020 Summer Games, even as a holdout by five-time Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings threatens to deprive the domestic beach volleyball tour of its biggest name.

“I respect her decisions, and I wish her well,” AVP owner Donald Sun told The Associated Press. “But in the meantime, we’re just geared up. All the athletes that are signed are fired up to play Huntington Beach next weekend.”

Walsh Jennings did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment. But she told the AP in March that negotiations were “a work in progress” and that the two sides were “pretty far off.”

She also boycotted an AVP event last summer over experimental rules that she said weren’t discussed with the athletes.

Each of the other seven Americans who went to the 2016 Olympics has signed, Sun said, except for Brooke Sweat. Sweat, who failed to make it out of group play in Rio de Janeiro with teammate Lauren Fendrick, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Sun told the AP that the tour has “a four-year agreement with practically all the players, which is awesome.” The deal includes a minimum of eight events per season and prize money minimums that will increase by at least 50 percent over the term of the deal, he said.

“It was a few months of process, discussing with individual players, groups of players, discussing what concerns they had,” Sun said. “We all made it. I think we’re all pretty happy.”

Well, not everyone.

The rift with Walsh, a three-time gold medalist who won bronze with April Ross in 2016, was exposed when the tour released its 2017 schedule in March and her name wasn’t among the list of those expected to participate.

Sun told the AP this week that the tour is prepared to proceed without Walsh Jennings, who has missed events previous summers because of injury, childbirth or to play on the international tour that determines Olympic qualification.

“It didn’t seem to affect attendance, TV ratings, or viewership on line,” Sun said. “The AVP is not just one person or one athlete; if it was, it would be a very challenging business model.”

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Anthony Joshua TKOs Wladimir Klitschko in battle of Olympic champs

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LONDON (AP) — Anthony Joshua wasn’t wrong when he raised his hands in victory after knocking Wladimir Klitschko down in the fifth round of what looked like a one-sided heavyweight title fight. He was just celebrating too early.

The rookie mistake allowed Klitschko to rally, nearly taking the lead as the two 6-foot-6 men went to the 11th round — four rounds longer than any Joshua fight had ever gone.

That’s when Joshua unleashed a brutal uppercut that spun Klitschko around, leading to a win that set off British celebrations in Wembley Stadium and beyond Saturday night and cemented the 27-year-old as boxing’s new superstar.

Rounds 5 and 6 featured some of the best heavyweight action since Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis — the latter two sitting ringside — ruled the division.

The two men in the ring were both Olympic super heavyweight champions. Joshua took gold for Great Britain in 2012, and Klitschko won for Ukraine in 1996.

Klitschko, who had barely thrown any power punches before the knockdown, came back to make the end of the fifth round interesting and knocked Joshua down in the next round.

With an entire country screaming for him, Joshua — who had knocked all his previous opponents out by the end of the seventh round — looked tired. But he saved his best for the late rounds, particularly the uppercut that will be a YouTube moment for decades.

Klitschko didn’t fall down after the uppercut, but Joshua was all over the stunned former champ and dropped him with a left hook. Klitschko got up only to take even more punishment. Joshua knocked Klitschko down again and was landing punches to his head on the ropes when referee David Fields moved in to stop the bout late in the 11th round.

“When you go to the trenches, that’s when you find out who you really are,” Joshua said. “In this small little ring here, there’s nowhere to hide.”

The biggest heavyweight title fight in more than a decade had a little something for everyone, and Joshua finished off in style.

“As I said from the get-go, it will be a boxing classic and the best man will win,” Joshua said.

Klitschko’s rally was inspiring, starting soon after he was knocked down in the fifth. By the end of the round, it was Klitschko pummeling a tired Joshua.

Joshua was still feeling the effect of those punches when he was dropped by a right hand in the sixth round. Klitschko began piling up rounds and it seemed like the savvy Ukrainian would quiet the hometown fans, until Joshua turned things around with that vicious right uppercut.

“If you don’t take part, you’re going to fail,” Joshua said. “Just give it a go and you never know the outcome.”

Joshua was up 96-93 and 95-93 on two scorecards, while Klitschko was ahead 95-93 on the third going into the final round. The Associated Press had it 94-94.

Klitschko, who reigned over the heavyweight division for a decade, was fighting both Joshua and Father Time at the age of 41. He looked to be overmatched in the early rounds, but fought his best after he was knocked down.

It was anyone’s fight when Joshua landed the uppercut that proved decisive, much to the delight of his countrymen who packed England’s national stadium for the highly anticipated bout.

“As I said I’m not perfect but I’m trying,” said Joshua, who was fighting for only the 19th time as a pro.

Joshua had never been beyond seven rounds, and it looked like he might be running out of gas as he tried to find his legs following the knockdown in the sixth. Klitschko, in his 29th world title fight, seemed to be taking the advantage in the later rounds, until the uppercut sent him spinning across the ring.

“It was really sad I didn’t make it tonight,” Klitschko said. “I was planning to do it. It didn’t work. But all respect to Anthony.”

Joshua defended his heavyweight titles and his undefeated record in a bout that lived up to its billing as the best matchup after a long drought in the heavyweight division. Already a hero in his native England, he may become one worldwide.

Joshua said before the bout that it was just two men in the ring, and nothing more than that. But it was clear by the crowd’s reaction as he came back to win that it was a lot more to many fans.

It was a battle of massive heavyweights, with both standing 6-foot-6. Joshua weighed 250.1 pounds to 240.5 for Klitschko.

Klitschko fell to 64-5 in a long career that began in 1996 after he won the Olympic gold in Atlanta. It may have been his last fight.

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