Give us this day our hockey sticks and forgive us our penalties, as we forgive those who cross-check against us.
Lead us not into elimination but deliver us to victory.
In the name of the ... fans, Canada and the holy puck.
Canada's hockey crusade in Vancouver was not for bragging rights but proprietary ones. The puffed-chest notion of entitlement—"It's pretty obvious it's the world's game," coach Mike Babcock said, "but we still think it's ours, and I'm a bit of a redneck"—chafed American players like 25-year-old Ryan Kesler, whose day job is playing center for the Canucks. Kesler had gone so far as to say he hated Canada or, more properly, its smug sense of hockey superiority. While strolling the Yaletown district after the U.S.'s 6--1 semifinal dismantling of Finland last Friday, Kesler says he was, in that fabulous hockey phrase, chirped by fans. "Not PG," Kesler said. "R rated. They're passionate, but it's a little annoying when you're trying to hang out with your family."
There was more conspicuous respect for Team USA goalie Ryan Miller, who was on the receiving end of only rare chants of "MILL-ER!" The tournament MVP, Miller is a 6'2" beanpole with a preternatural calm that, U.S. general manager Brian Burke suggested, made him the anti--Denis Lemieux, the flopping and frustrated goalie from the movie Slap Shot. Miller, who finished with a superb .945 save percentage, credited his father, Dean, with teaching him to play the position without ornamentation. Recalls Ryan, "My father used to say, 'SPORTS ILLUSTRATED isn't here taking pictures. Make the glove save and just move on.'"
This is the power of the Olympics: In a period of two weeks Miller went from Sabres stalwart to international star. When Team USA beat Canada 5--3 in the round robin, his life went viral. The phrase Do you believe in Miller-cles? was trending on Twitter. His friends told him a Jonas Brother—it was Joe—tweeted him, then Alyssa Milano. He appeared on Ryan Seacrest's nationally syndicated radio show, during which he was asked about his girlfriend, actress Noureen DeWulf. "It's been a little surreal," said Miller. "I've been used to hockey being a cult sport that people just want to pay attention to at their convenience."
Maybe Vancouver 2010 changes that dynamic. If Zach Parise's opportunistic goal with 24.4 seconds left in regulation had led to a U.S. victory instead of merely setting up Crosby's star turn in overtime, this could have been the tipping point that brought hockey in from the American cold. As Burke says, "A gold medal immortalizes a team." A silver can tarnish in the four years before Sochi, when NHL players might, or might not, be going.
Crosby's golden goal may become the ultimate Olympic men's moment, in an even grander sense. According to a senior NHL official, more than three quarters of owners want to abandon the Olympic experiment and oblige players to tend to their league knitting in 2014.
"It's like the two-handed economist," says Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, who had four players in the final: the brilliant Patrick Kane, who assisted on both U.S. goals on Sunday, and Team Canada members Jonathan Toews, voted the best forward in the tournament, and defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. "On the business side it's like closing your bar at nine o'clock on New Year's Eve. But ... it's really excited our fans, the players and the city of Chicago."