The Miracle on Ice

Friday, February 19, 2010

Each evening, although we've been busy at work and are tired by the time we get home, my wife and I have enjoyed snuggling on the couch to watch the Olympics. To keep up with things, I've been checking RealClear Sports, where I found an interesting article this morning about this year's American Men's Hockey Team.

Sports writer Ian Johnson's comparison of this team to the "Miracle on Ice" squad seems a bit of a stretch, but it did draw my attention to an interesting story:

In 1980, U.S. hockey coach Herb Brooks overlooked some top-level college talent and built his "Miracle on Ice" hockey team around players who hailed mainly from just two areas--Minnesota and Boston--figuring they'd jell better into a team that could trump talent.

Thirty years later, something similar is going on at the Vancouver Olympics. While the U.S. men's hockey team is many giant steps away from a gold medal, it's been built on a similar philosophy. Players have been chosen for their chemistry, with many big names left behind.
The group is also very young, which, aside from perhaps bringing superior stamina to the table, also brings a degree of brashness many veteran players might lack:
As the team prepares for one of the Olympics' high points--the U.S.-Canada match on Sunday--it's already won the two games it had to, beating Switzerland 3-1 on Tuesday and stomping Norway 6-1 Thursday. And it's doing so in an entertaining and risk-taking style with a bit of the "truculence" [General Manager Brian] Burke says he wants from his players.

"These big stars on the other teams are going to get their chances, but we're not sitting back and waiting for them," says 23-year-old defenseman Jack Johnson. "We're playing an aggressive, in-your-face style. We are not sitting back."
Thanks to our culture's saturation with collectivism, we can probably expect lots of babbling about "unselfishness," "sacrifice," and "unity," but don't let that noise get in the way of what sounds like a good show this Sunday. (There are important, objective principles behind achieving success in team endeavors that have nothing to do with the ethics of self-immolation.)

And don't let it distract you from the soundness of Burke's personnel decisions, either. As I see it, he has deftly avoided two huge problems endemic to building a tournament team -- fragile egos and unfamiliarity:
For 22-year-old Bobby Ryan, a former overall No. 2 draft pick, the lack of older players is just fine. "You're not with a lot of veteran guys that you have to tiptoe around," Mr. Ryan said. "You're comfortable with each other. It absolutely helps cohesion."

Another reason for the togetherness might be Mr. Burke's adherence to his NHL team-building playbook. That means a limited number of elite players--mostly the seven youngsters from the Ann Arbor program--and a bunch of raw-boned role players: grinders, defensive specialists and muckers, in other words, the gritty players who have populated Mr. Burke's teams in Vancouver, Anaheim (where he won a Stanley Cup) and now Toronto. The result is clean lines of responsibility and no sulking stars who are asked to play a defensive role. [bold added]
This sounds promising. I think I'll watch the game against Canada Sunday.

-- CAV

PS: The movie Miracle, about the 1980 Men's Team, is excellent and I highly recommend it.


Jim May said...

Hi Gus,

I'll see you your 1980 "miracle" and raise you the 1972 Summit Series, where our guys softened them up a bit for ya ;)

I too have been reading up on the upcoming game, and the thing they noted which struck me most was this: for most of the players on the US team, 1980 is just history, from before they were born.

The Russians remain formidable foes, but for these players, their ultimate nemeses are the Canadians. They are the ones to beat, and always will be.

Sports is one of the few areas in which I remain one hundred percent Canadian. In that spirit, I too will be watching that game.

And speaking as both Canadian and an Objectivist, I say that there will be no miracles in Vancouver :)

Gus Van Horn said...


Heh! The fact that most of these kids weren't even born in 1980 makes me feel old -- but not too old for smack talk: Too bad there won't be any miracles Sunday, 'cause Canada's going to need one!

Smack aside, I think this will be a good game. May the better team win!


Jim May said...


The Great One says that Canada will win the gold medal.

Against Russia.

Ouch, that's going to leave a mark!

I really don't remember ever seeing Canadians so... confident. In hockey, sure, but even so, Gretzky's always been so self-effacing, and now he does this.

Where did "Own the Podium" come from? I love it. Canadians used to be happy with just being there.

Jim May said...

btw, here's the article I references in my first comment:

Gus Van Horn said...

Bringing out the big guns, I see! I guess they're feeling their oats after showing the Swiss how it's done in a shootout.

Gretzky is entitled to his opinion, wrong though it be.