In 1980, with anti-Soviet sentiment rising once again due to their recent invasion of Afghanistan, Olympic viewers across the United States were treated to one of the greatest upsets sports has ever seen.
A rag-tag group led by motivational-quote icon and hard-nosed disciplinarian Herb Brooks proved that no challenge is insurmountable. Over the years, their story of perseverance and — lets be honest — capitalism’s triumph over communism, has been adapted to documentaries and films and holed out a niche in American pop-culture.
Now, 38 years later, there remains something special about Olympic Ice Hockey. Women’s Ice Hockey was added to the docket in 1998, insuring that between the Men’s and the Women’s Team, USA hockey fans never have to leave their couch.
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USA Women’s Olympic Team
Team USA took home the first ever Olympic gold in 1998 in Japan, but Canada has beaten them out for the top prize in every Olympics since. The U.S. has medaled in every Olympics, losing to Canada in the final round in every games besides 2006 when they fell to bronze behind Finland.
These games in South Korea featured a stacked roster for the red, white and blue. The team is a strong mix of wily veterans and eager youngsters and —like any great team—their fair share of Badgers.
Bucky featured early in the tournament for Team USA against Finland in the first preliminary match-up. All-time University of Wisconsin goal scoring leader Hillary Knight set up her teammate Kendall Coyne for a one-timer in the middle period, the U.S. took the 2-1 lead and would not relinquish it for the remainder of the game.
Next up for Team USA was the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR). Unlike 1980, this team did not bring much to the table and the Americans were able to dismiss them in a 5-0 smack-down. This was a great dominant win early in the Olympics for Team USA and the 50-13 shot disparity was a huge confidence boost heading into their biggest test of the games thus far against the perennially talented Canadians.
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In the final preliminary game of the Olympics, the U.S. and Canada faced off in an effort to jockey for prime position in the semi-finals. Suddenly, the explosive offense that Team USA had come to expect over the last couple games had disappeared. The Americans could only put home a single goal, which wouldn’t be enough against the efficient offense of Team Canada. The Canadians struck twice on 23 shots, which was good enough to grab the “W” and hand Team USA their first loss.
It was then onto the semi-finals for the US, where they would stack up against Finland once again in the first elimination game of the tournament. Team USA captain and UW leading point scorer Meghan Duggan helped open the scoring with an assist, setting up a one-timer in the slot. Knight also got in on the action with a power play goal, helping the U.S. win the game 5-0 and advancing the team to the gold medal match against Canada.
It surprised nobody that the final game featured these two countries, a match-up that has occurred four times in the previous five Olympics.
Knight continued her prolific stretch with the opening goal in the first period to put the U.S. out front 1-0. Canada responded with a couple goals in the middle period to take the lead. In the final period, facing yet another gold medal loss to the Canadians, the U.S. came through on a breakaway goal with 6:21 left in regulation.
Tied at two goals each, the game was sent to overtime. Not even a 20-minute 4 on 4 overtime period was enough to separate these two teams. The U.S. beat out Canada in the shot column 9-7, but with neither team converting the game entered a shoot-out.
Team USA would win it in a tense six-round shoot-out reminiscent of the classic T.J. Oshie-led Sochi victory back in 2014 for the Men’s Team.
USA Men’s Olympic Team
If the 2018 Winter Olympics taught us anything, it is that to field a great Men’s Olympic Hockey Team, Team USA probably should be drawing from their most talented pool of players. Well, lesson learned.
When Gary Bettman and the rest of the big-whigs at the NHL decided there would not be the customary mid-season NHL break in order to allow players to join with their home country’s team, most were upset. Though some, remembering a certain 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, had reason to find a glimmer of hope.
After this week’s elimination at the hands of the Czech Republic in a heart-wrenching shoot-out, that hope was squashed.
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Things got off to a rough start for the team initially with an opening round preliminary loss to Slovenia in overtime 2-3. Wisconsin and Team USA Coach Tony Granato seemed unable to conjure Herb Brooks to ignite the team.
Even after a win against Slovakia in the second game, Team USA took a bad loss to the talented OAR team which features Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk. The 4-0 loss left little for the US to hang their hat on as they entered their first elimination game against Slovakia.
For the second time in four games the U.S. beat Slovakia, this time quite handily. In the 5-1 victory, Granato coached the team to two power-play conversions and a 75 percent penalty kill.
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In the quarter finals against the Czech Republic the U.S. played a back-and-forth game that led to a 2-2 tie until the end of regulation. After a fruitless overtime period lasting ten minutes, the game entered shoot-outs.
With no T.J. Oshie this year, Team USA struggled to score at all and fell to the Czechs after goalie Ryan Zapolski only managed to stop four of five attempts.
Team USA Hockey will depart from Pyongyang with a gold medal on the Women’s side and a disappointing early exit on the Men’s.
This disappointment on the side of the Granato-coached team may lead to some pressure for the NHL to allow their players back in the next Olympics and restore competitiveness to the U.S. roster.
Olympic success can often spur athletic growth domestically and the socially conscious Women’s Team, who notably fought for gender equality in a movement last year, will hope their victory can inspire girls at home to take up the sport now that they have seen their role models accomplish so much on the world’s biggest stage.