Walking Together Forever

Posted: February 14, 2014 in Flyers

USAHockey

Heading into Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Finals in Philadelphia, the Flyers held a 3 games to 2 lead over the favored Boston Bruins in the series. Before the game, Flyers head coach Fred Shero, who was never the type of coach who would give big “rah-rah” pre-game speeches, simply had the following written on a chalk board as the players came into the locker room:

“Win together today and we walk together forever.”

Aside from being one of my all-time favorite sports quotes, this quote came to mind as the Men’s Ice Hockey tournament got underway on Wednesday at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The Americans have the opportunity to make this a truly historical Olympic games for them on multiple levels.

Team USA, which is coming off of a heartbreaking overtime loss to Canada in the gold medal game back in 2010, is in Group A this time around. Also in Group A are Slovakia, Slovenia and host country Russia. After cruising past Slovakia 7-1 in their opening game, the US faces Russia tomorrow afternoon, which can be seen live at 7:30 am and will probably be aired again later in the day.

Any time people talk USA Hockey, three words will almost always come up: “Miracle on Ice”. That is, as many people know, in reference to the 1980 American team that upset the heavily favored Soviet Red Army team in the semi-finals of that year’s Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.

Let me take a second to put that upset into perspective.

This was a group of college kids and amateurs (Team USA) facing off against a team made  up of guys who basically did four things: eat, sleep, breathe and play hockey (Team USSR). Keep in mind it was not until eighteen years later in 1998 that NHL players were allowed to participate in the Olympics. Not to mention the last time the US and Soviet Union met in an exhibition match, the Soviets crushed the Americans 10-3.

Team USA captain Mike Eruzione’s goal midway through the third period wound up being the game-winning goal as the United States upset the heavily favored Soviets. 34 years later, this is still widely regarded as the greatest, and defining, moment in American hockey history. With the win the US advanced to the gold medal game where they beat Finland to win the gold medal.

That was the last time the United States won men’s ice hockey gold at the Olympics.

This 2014 US hockey team has a chance to cement themselves into the history books. In an interview conducted with Amy Robach, US captain Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, whose father Bob Suter was a member of the 1980 Olympic team, both spoke about tomorrow’s showdown against the Russians. Suter mentioned how his father told him to win gold “so people will stop talking about us.”

Truthfully it is hard not to compare any US team with the 1980 team. That being said, it’s hard not to be excited about the team’s chances in Sochi this year. Personally, I have four teams in mind that I think are legitimate gold medal threats: USA, Canada, Russia and Sweden (with Finland being my “dark horse” team).

So far the US has looked the most impressive in their opening games. It’s not just because they won 7-1, but the team started to gel more and more as the game progressed and looked very complete as the game ended.

There is no question that no team has more pressure on them that host country Russia. Any time the host country of the Winter Olympics is a hockey powerhouse, in this case Russia, the pressure on them to win gold increases ten-fold. Four years ago it was on Canada and this time around the pressure is  on the Russians. There is also a ton of pressure on Canada, the defending gold medalists, to repeat as well.

However, as much pressure as the Canadians have on them, so too do the Americans. They have not won gold in 34 years and in their last three Olympics have won two silver medals with a disappointing eighth-place finish at the 2006 Olympics in between.

An American victory over the Russians tomorrow, which would be the first on Soviet/Russian soil, would be a huge first step towards a gold medal, which would be the first since 1980.

And, if the Americans win the gold medal in Sochi, they, like the 1974/75 Flyers and the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team, will walk together forever.

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