No one expected Team USA to be at the top of their group, nor be a medal contender, but the Cinderella team are one step closer to the ultimate Vancouver souvenir. In a shocking upset, Team USA reclaimed some hockey pride by beating the Canadian team on home ice. Team USA’s youth has sparked the adventurous spirit of what the American team want to showcase. Though the average age of Team USA is 26.6, lack of experience and youth has proven to be a mute argument. With such amazing performances by Zach Parise who had two goals in the match-up with Switzerland, or the tenacious puck play of Dustin Brown, the sheer mettle of taking on the powerhouse Canada and breaking the bank to top Group A has stunned hockey fans globally.
But the true heart of any hockey team can be found in leadership from between the pipes and on the blue line. The Canadians knew that a behemoth of a goaltender could revive their team, and it did. Canada has been quick to regroup after the loss to the Americans, replacing goaltender Martin Brodeur with Canucks captain Roberto Luongo.
Not only is Team USA’s goaltender Ryan Miller one of the biggest contributors to the team’s success, but also this is his Olympic debut. At the age of 29, Miller has the youth, but he brings wisdom and wile to the competition.
Ryan Miller has been stellar and faced quick shots at a furious pace. Miller faced 45 shots by the Canadians and held 42. Facing 19 shots from the Swiss, Miller took hold and delivered the shutout. His level headed play was evident at his alma mater, Michigan State, where the Michigan native set an NCAA record with 26 career shutouts. In 2001, Miller’s talent was showcased with the leading winning percentage, save percentage (.950) goal against average and a record 10 shootouts over all other players in the country, thus snagging the coveted college hockey Hobey Baker Award. Ryan took the Goaltender of the Year for all three seasons at Michigan State and was the CCHA’s overall MVP twice.
Growing up in East Lansing, Michigan, you’d think Ryan would look at exciting options to play away from home, but not the case. Michiganders love their hockey and Ryan’s family is no exception. Brother Drew now plays for the Detroit Red Wings, plus ten members of his family, including his grandfather, all played for the Michigan State Spartans. In 1990 his cousin, Kip Miller also won the Hobey Baker and was the first Spartan to be honored. Hockey royalty perhaps, but Ryan never lets his prestigious genetics blur his ability to reign supreme in net.
Michigan is also the home to a defenseman who has rallied the troops, Brian Rafalski. At age 36, Rafalski is the oldest player on the team providing leadership yet so much more. With four goals and four assists, Detroit Red Wings’ Brian Rafalski leads in scoring for Team USA. In a mesmerizing match-up between Canada and the USA, Rafalski’s blue line demeanor broke through to score two goals and nab an assist. The unexpected fury came and this American boy was not going to lose.
Rafalski, the veteran Olympian, was on hand during the 2002 games in Salt Lake City winning a silver medal, as well as playing at the 2006 games in Torino. Vancouver marks his third Olympic appearance. His presence may have led the charge in Team USA’s success. Rafalski has always been a quiet player, not ostentatious with his style, but a classic American citizen and family man. He is also no stranger to fighting for what he wants, as he struggled to find his place in the world of hockey.
Rafalski, born in Dearborn, Michigan, took his hockey talent to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he played for four years. His senior year, Brian netted 45 points in 43 games. The WCHA named Rafalski to their First All-Star Team, plus he was named to the NCAA West All-Star Team, as well as the WCHA Defenseman of the Year in 1995.
Though he has come back to his birth state and found a home with the Detroit Red Wings, it wasn’t always that easy for Brian. He struggled throughout the years being bounced from teams, countries but always playing as a winner. He won a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2008. Despite a discouraging season this year with the Detroit Red Wings, Rafalski is having a good year with 4 goals and 25 assists. Look for more firepower from this defenseman when he returns from the Vancouver no matter the outcome.
If Team USA is victorious, then American hockey will gain some respect and prove to be a formidable training ground for future players. If Team USA can’t clinch the prize, then the players can say they fought the good fight and proved American hockey is for real. No one can overlook the exceptional effort of goaltender Ryan Miller and defenseman Brian Rafalski leading the charge to battle for Gold.