The rationale behind Canada's ambitious "Own the Podium" initiative made sense on the surface. Our neighbors needed a unifying cry with the 2010 Winter Olympics being staged on their home soil. It was designed to intensify training and provide better results.
Canada didn't scare anyone who was paying attention. They had no chance of owning the podium so long as the Americans were in town. The United States -- the "U.S. eh," as one newspaper headline blared -- had 24 medals overall going into Sunday night, six more than the Germans and 15 more than fourth-place Canada.
Own the podium? Please. Canada isn't qualified to rent the "P" and the "O."
The naysayers can say whatever they please, so long as the eh-sayers get the last word when it comes to hockey. Keep the medals in ski jumping, luge or short-track speedskating, they say, and leave hockey for us. This is a collection of fans that gave their national team a standing ovation during warm-up Sunday afternoon.
That's what Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, South Buffalo native Patrick Kane, East Amherst-raised Brooks Orpik and the rest of the Americans were up against in loud but nervous Hockey Canada Center. It was a classification game, but the outcome -- a 5-3 victory for Team USA -- meant so much more across Canada than it did anywhere else.
The United States advances to the quarterfinals. Canada must play an extra game to reach the medal round. Both teams remain in contention for all three medals.
Tickets that sold for $5,000 on the street a few days ago were going for $6,000 or more on a sunny afternoon near the Vancouver Canucks' home. Six thousand bucks for one hockey game?
Imagine the price next week, not to mention the tension, if these two hockey superpowers manage to meet again in the gold medal game. The locals estimate that tickets for the final game Sunday will sell for $12,000 apiece if Canada is one of the participants, even more if the Yanks wind up on the other side the opening face-off circle.
Look out, because the bloody Yanks look dangerous.
None other than Chris Drury gave the Americans a 3-2 lead with 3 minutes, 16 seconds remaining in the second period when he buried a loose puck. You might recall the former Sabres captain scoring a clutch goal or 20 in his day.
The United States stood up to the pressure in the first period Sunday. Brian Rafalski scored 41 seconds into the game while fans were still cheering "Go, Canada." Rafalski answered again later in the period when fans were still cheering for Eric Staal's goal. And Miller seemed to have all the answers.
Drury, Miller? Sabres coach Lindy Ruff must have been having flashbacks, if not nightmares, while standing behind the opposing bench.
Miller stopped 29 shots in the first 40 minutes. Rafalski had four goals in his first four shots in the tournament. He had four goals in 57 games this season for the Red Wings.
Team USA General Manager Brian Burke made it clear going into the Winter Games that he couldn't afford to assemble the top 20 players in red, white and blue and send them against the stronger, faster, deeper teams from Canada, Russia and beyond. The American team was put together with specific roles in mind for every player.
Drury, for example, was named to the U.S. team despite a brutal year with the Rangers in a move that baffled many. The reason: simple. Burke and U.S. coach Ron Wilson, former college roommates and blood brothers who wear the Maple Leaf of Toronto in the NHL, wanted a selfless leader with Olympic experience.
Drury spent much of his time Sunday opening and closing the door at the end of the bench, encouraging his teammates after every shift. The penalty killer took the odd shift on the fourth line. He backed up his own message to his teammates after telling them they best check their ego at the door, sounding much like he did in Buffalo.
Kane was selected for this team for his creative mind and blessed hands, assets in the open ice. Orpik is being asked to be their shutdown defenseman, providing the same steadiness and sturdiness as he did for the last two seasons with the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
The United States has produced more medal winners in the Winter Games, but it was an underdog when this tournament began. In hockey, as any puck-loving fan in Western New York knows, it means nothing in the Olympics. Dominik Hasek proved in the 1998 Nagano Games that one person can make a major difference.
And that brings back us to Miller, who also is wearing No. 39 in this tournament. Miller was the best goaltender in the NHL despite a minislump just before the Olympic break. Sabres fans, not to mention his Sabres coach Ruff, wondered whether he has enough fuel to make it through the playoffs.
Burke and Wilson aren't worried about Miller and the playoffs. They're thinking about winning now, and Miller has been superb. He was irked over the Canadians slipping a loonie into center ice in Salt Lake City in 2002 before beating the Americans and standing atop the podium on U.S. soil.
And when Sunday rolls around, he's hoping to return the favor.