Send in the Amateurs

By Dan Berrigan

After a disappointing tie to Latvia on Wednesday and a 2-1 loss to Slovakia on Saturday, the American men’s hockey team needs nothing short of a miracle to win a medal in Torino.

We send 23 of our best professional hockey players, and they can’t beat a Latvian team with just two NHLers? The Latvia that’s been a country all of 15 years and has a population roughly equal to Chicago?

Yeah, that Latvia.

“We weren’t expected to win or even get the tie,” former NHL goalie Arturs Irbe told the Associated Press. “We were big-time underdogs in this game in everybody’s eyes except our own people.

You can say that this probably means more to us than to the American team.”

Newsflash, Arturs, it’s not just the team that doesn’t care, but the entire country.

Hockey has become the great American afterthought – right on par with football.

No, not the smashmouth brand of football, that other one with all the mini-vans and riots.

If the idea here is to make American hockey look incompetent, then shutting the NHL down for two weeks in order to throw a bunch of pro-players together is working beautifully.

The United States hasn’t won gold in men’s ice hockey since 1980.

Keep in mind, this idea is coming from the Commissioner who was the first in any sport to shut down a league for a season.

I hope I don’t get my MBA from the same place he did.

So how does Latvia, with a team that has just two pros, skate away with a tie against the NHL’s best Americans? The key word here is team.

When Herb Brooks led a group of college kids to the greatest upset in the history of the sport, that team had six months together to train, learn a system, go over it in practices and exhibition games, and become a family.

For many, the gold-medal victory over Finland was the last organized hockey game they’d play.

Twenty-six years later, Team USA isn’t a team at all, it’s just a group of guys tossed together by a committee in the hopes that talent alone can win gold.

The Americans had two days of practice back in September to learn a new system for the international game, then had a scrimmage before hopping onto a plane to rejoin their NHL teams.

To make matters worse, with the NHL playing on Sunday, the team couldn’t gather for the flight to Italy until Monday.

They arrived Tuesday, got a grand total of one, single-hour practice and, just like that, played Latvia on Wednesday.

U.S. coach Peter Laviolette wanted to use the flight time to go over game plans, but the players were too exhausted.

No wonder Latvia, who has been practicing together for months, playing the international style of hockey, and forming bonds with one another almost upset a throw-together team of pros.

It’d be like taking one of this weekend’s NBA All-Star teams and sending them to the Olympics and expecting them to win gold.

Oh wait, they lost to Puerto Rico by 19 in Athens.

It’s not the players’ fault or the coaches. It’s the product of a busted system that needs to change.

If the U. S. Olympic Committee were to unilaterally withdraw NHL players and put together a real team with training camps and amateur players, it might make things more interesting.

Bring out the college kids, minor leaguers and the best of the rest, even if no one else will. There’s nothing America loves more than an underdog.

Of course, it might get ugly. We might lose. College guys and washed-up pros can’t compete against NHL all-stars.

Tell that to Latvia. Tell that to the 1980 team.

Dan Berrigan is a senior in engineering and can be reached at [email protected]