I remember sitting in my apartment in college, eating a five dollar pizza and clinging to a couch that probably cost even less.
That part of the story isn’t exactly unique, but what my friends and I were watching is something we won’t soon forget.
Let’s preface this story: most of us were huge hockey fans, but there were a few who either dabbled or were only interested because of the situation. It was 2010 and the Olympic Winter Games were being held in Vancouver, and it was a tournament that provided some of our most profound hockey memories in a span of two weeks. Those Olympics provided the kind of hockey exposure that can captivate someone who had previously expressed a passing interest in the game; I happened to see that in spades from my vantage point.
The campus bars on Court St. in Athens were filled with red, white and blue gear and “USA!” chants – which, during my college days, weren’t thrown around so haphazardly. People were planning their days around the Olympic hockey schedule. It was awesome.
It was also the only time I can remember our group of friends – which included Browns fans, Steelers fans, Blue Jackets fans, Penguins fans and a lonely Bengals fan – unified over something related to sport.
In the final minute of the gold medal game, it felt as if the entire country willed Zach Parise’s game-tying goal into the net. Sure, the U.S. wound up losing the gold medal game in overtime, but that’s not the point. When we look back, we reflect on the moments like the Parise goal, Team USA’s preliminary round win over Canada and others.
The best hockey players in the world, from all over the world, emptied the tanks for two weeks for their country.
Here’s the best news: we get to do it all over again in a few months.
“It’s the best players playing for their respective countries in a different format,” John Davidson told me. “Players who normally play against each other are now on the same team and they have a common goal of representing their countries. It doesn’t happen very often to too many people in their entire lives. I’ve been associated with the Olympics for a long time and I’ve had the luxury of broadcasting five Winter Olympics.
“It’s very difficult to explain how the Olympics work; it’s us against you, it’s your country against everyone else. It’s a lifetime experience whether you’re in the Olympics or going to the Olympics. I think it’s the right thing to do.”
When the NHL and IIHF announced Olympic participation in the upcoming Sochi Games, I thought back to those days: stapled to the couch, pacing back and forth with every power play for Canada and hoping that Ryan Miller could once again come up big for Team USA.
It made me think about what that experience meant to me, and how important it is for our sport to take part in the Olympics.
It’s about something bigger than hockey and bigger than sport. It’s about pride and that’s why I’m really excited we’ll get to do it again in February.
Without getting into the details of the agreement (because a. it’s done and b. it’s really none of my business), I’ll just say I’m thrilled to have NHL players participating in the Olympics. It’s a fantastic stage for our sport and brings all of the elements of hockey up a notch: speed, passion, intensity, competition, all of it. There’s always a little extra juice when you’re playing for the flag.
Such tournaments only get bigger and better as hockey continues to grow, and that’s exactly what the sport has done since 2010. The United States has made an impact on the international level, with two gold medals at the World Junior tournament since 2010 and a strong chance to have an even better team at the Sochi Olympics.
The Canadians, Russians, Swedes and Finns are sure to be in medal contention and the Swiss and Slovaks will be right there, as well.
We were spoiled rotten in 2010. We wanted more, but we had to wait. And it’s a darn good thing we’ll finally get it.
“The game is becoming such a worldwide game,” Davidson said. “The Olympics are seen worldwide, so that portion of it is very good but in a selfish way you get nervous because you have a lot of your own players who could be playing. There’s always the risk of injury there, but it’s for the good of the game. That’s what it’s about.”