Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: Do You Believe in Exciting Olympic Hockey Games?

We welcome back Skitch Hanson to the Scratchbomb pages. You may know him from his nationally syndicated sports column, “Up the Middle”. You may have also seen him on the ESPN roundtable discussion show, Mouth-Talkers! Or you may have read one of his 79 books, such as Playing Catch with My Father, and Other Things I Wish Happened in My Childhood. Without further ado, here’s Skitch to talk about Olympic Hockey.

usahockey.jpgLast night’s Olympic hockey match between the US and Canada was quite the rough-and-tumble contest. A real battle of wills. A hard-nosed, no-holds-barred exhibition of old time hockey.

Or so I’ve heard. I’d forgotten the game was on last night, and when it dawned on me that I was missing it, I couldn’t figure out what channel it was on. My cable system’s supposed to have some sort of an onscreen guide, but you have to be a robot to figure those things out! Plus, the box hasn’t worked too well since my wife accidentally spilled three whole bottles of pinot grigio on it.

By the time I found the game, it was already over and the American players were congratulating one another. Of course, it reminded me of the Miracle on Ice some 20-something years ago. Fittingly enough, I believe last night was actually the anniversary of the USA’s historic victory over the Soviet Union at Mount Placid. I would look up the date, but I seem to have misplaced my Reader’s Digest almanac for that year.

I’ll always remember that game, because it happened during the first Olympics I covered. The day of the game, you could just feel something in the air. Even though nobody in their right mind thought the US could win, you could just feel that something special was about to happen.

Unfortunately, that feeling wasn’t enough to wake me up from a mid-afternoon nap and catch the shuttle bus to the arena. But I was a young go-getter back then, and a few pounds lighter, too–this was back when I could still see my feet. So I briskly walked the 7 miles from my hotel to the hockey game. Security wouldn’t let me into the press booth, because I was late, and because I had sweat so much my body odor was deemed offensive.

So I watched most of the game on the TVs hanging over the concession stands. The energy in the building was unbelievable. This one vendor named Antonio seemed really into it, even though I had to describe the action to him, since he couldn’t see what was going on from his station next to that cube with the heat lamps in it that they use to heat up soft pretzels.

Sure, there are some differences between the miraculous victory at Fort Placid and the one in Vancouver. The Miracle on Ice was a semi-final, and this one was just for a first round bye. And the older team was made up of college kids, while this one is entirely comprised of well-paid professionals. And in 1980, the game was both a Cold War metaphor and a boost to the sagging morale of Carter-era America. Today’s kids probably couldn’t find Russia on a map! I know my son Brad can’t! The doctors think there might be something seriously wrong with him!

My point is, last night, Americans came together to cheer on their country. In this day and age, how many times can we say that? Apart from the Olympics every other year and the occasional dance competition show. Yes, this game brought us together, made us briefly care about hockey, and got us to root against a country that cares about the sport far more than we could ever possibly imagine.

I think that has to count for something. Will it mean much if the US winds up only winning a bronze medal, or no medal at all? I don’t know. But hopefully by then, March Madness will have started.