America flounders second “Miracle on Ice” hopes at Winter Olympics

Photo courtesy of Kalel2007, Wikipedia.

The Olympics were once a celebration strictly among amateur athletes. Competitors from around the world would gather and compete in friendly rivalry. However, it has been a long time since the Olympics worked that way. 

It was not until 1986 that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) relaxed amateur-only restrictions. This change was due to political and economic advancements which blurred the lines of amateurism and professionalism. The IOC also realized that allowing sponsorship, advertising and other commercial interests could in turn cause the Olympic Games to attract the very best international professional athletes from around the world.

Before the rule change, in the 1980 Winter Olympics, a historic sports moment occurred: “The Miracle on Ice.” It is known as a legendary moment in American sports when the United States men’s Olympic hockey team shocked the entire world and won gold against the Soviet Union. 

41 years later, there was a similar storyline set-up to witness a possible second “Miracle on Ice,” but it fell through. 

For the 2022 Beijing Olympics, the NHL pulled its players from participating in the Winter Olympics due to COVID-related interruptions of the season. When the USA Hockey organization announced the 25 player roster, it consisted of 15 college athletes and the rest of the players being from the European pro leagues and North American minors.

This 2022 roster was made up much like it was back in 1980 when the United States won gold. Similar to the “Miracle on Ice,” while the 1980 Russian team was composed of mostly professional players, the American team was mostly amateurs. 

Like that historic game from more than four decades ago, the Russian team, competing as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), remains the heavy favorite to win gold. Russia received a two-year ban from the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2019 for its state-sponsored doping program. Between Dec. 17, 2020 and Dec. 17, 2022, no athlete can represent Russia at the Olympics, Paralympics or World Championships.  

The two teams were not scheduled to meet during group competition, as the United States was in Group A and the ROC was in Group B. The only chance for the two teams to face off would be during the medal rounds, and it seemed like it was quite possible. 

The ROC was able to win two of their three games in their group play, giving them a first-round bye in the playoffs. Team USA was also able to clinch first place in their group play and earn a first-round bye in the playoffs. 

Team USA had impressive group play, with strong wins. It included a 8-0 win over China in its Olympics opener on Thursday, Feb. 10. On Saturday, Feb. 12, they beat Canada by a score of 4-2, giving them their first win over Canada at the Olympics since 2010. In their last game of group play on Sunday, Feb. 13, the United States continued their win streak, beating Germany, 3-2. 

However, when it mattered most in the playoffs, Team USA faced a heartbreaker. Slovakia stunned Team USA in the quarterfinal, 3-2. Slovakia tied the game in the final minute of regulation and then eliminated Team USA in a shootout Wednesday, Feb 16. Perhaps Slovakia had their own “Miracle on Ice” moment in the regard that a scrappy underdog pulled a shocker against a top-seeded team.

No matter the outcome, the Americans were more like that 1980 team than any team in an NHL-infused Olympics would be. The U.S. team leaves Beijing without a medal in hockey, making this the third straight Olympics without one, the last being the silver medal won in Vancouver in 2010. Team USA hasn’t won gold since its “Miracle on Ice” title in 1980.