No Miracle Needed

Fast Start Has Some Drawing Comparisons To Olympics Past

BEIJING – With every goal scored, every scrappy victory earned and every step closer to the medal round they get, the questions are inevitable. Are we seeing the 2022 version of the “miracle on ice”?


For a generation that has grown up with the Hollywood version of the real deal, it may seem like a fair question. But for those who have seen the strides the United States has made over the past four decades since the U.S. won gold on Olympic ice in Lake Placid, N.Y., it can elicit a “here we go again” eye roll.


“I definitely grew up watching the movie [Miracle]. I think all the guys did,” said 23-year-old Straus Mann, who stopped 35 shots in the 4-2 win against Canada.


“We showed that we have a chance and it’s just about building every game and getting a little bit better every game. It’s important just staying in the present mode and not getting too far ahead of ourselves.”


To be clear, USA Hockey is no longer in the miracle business. And no matter what the pundits back home may say on a podcast or tweet or post on their blogs, this team is not here to be a speed bump for the big boys on their way to the gold-medal game. This team is here because they expect to win. Not a game, not a group, but the whole thing.


First things first. Beating China was a nice way to kick off the tournament. Taking down Canada provided a measuring stick of where this team is at. But all of that doesn’t matter much if the U.S. doesn’t take care of business against Germany on Sunday night.Leadership and big goals from Brian O'Neill and captain Andy Miele have helped the U.S. get off to a fast start here in Beijing.Leadership and big goals from Brian O'Neill and captain Andy Miele have helped the U.S. get off to a fast start here in Beijing. 


“Our players understand the moment and importance of resetting after every game. But hey, if you can’t enjoy this win why’d we come?” said U.S. head coach David Quinn. 


“Both games are worth the same amount of points, unless I missed something. So we’ve got to be ready to go because tomorrow’s game is just as important as the one we just played today.”


A win would give the U.S. the top spot in Group A and an automatic berth in the quarterfinals, and put them one step away from the medal round. The rest of the field would have to play an extra game in the qualification round.


It’s only been little more than a week but there is something about the way this team continues to create a winning identity. Much has been made of the youth of this team, with an average age of 25, and with 15 collegians on the roster. And while they’re only two games into their Olympic odyssey, they have so far proven that the moment is not too big for them.


“I think it’s safe to say, the kids can play,” said 29-year-old Kenny Agostino. “It’s clear that we’ve got a lot of speed and lot of talent, but this was a man’s game tonight. I think all of them stepped up and played like men out there tonight.”

More than just their speed and youthful exuberance, they have meshed well with the veteran players on the squad, who have proven they’re not here to play nurse maids to the next generation of NHL stars. Brian O’Neill, the only returning Olympian, has not only found the back of the net but has brought a physical element to his game, and captain Andy Miele has led by example in the locker room and on the ice.


It was Miele’s determination and hustle that led to a huge U.S. goal in the third period against Canada. With the tide of momentum having swung away from his team, Miele fought off a check in the neutral zone, lost the puck as he crossed the blue line but never gave up on the play and made a pass to Agostino who ripped a shot under the arm of Pasquale for a crucial insurance goal. Play was equal parts heart and skill and it shows why he’s been tabbed to lead this team.


“I wasn’t at all surprised when he was elected captain,” said Agostino, who has been playing on a line with Miele all season with the Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod in the KHL. “He’s a leader on and off the ice, whether he has got a letter or not. He’s an unbelievable teammate, he’s just a good person and obviously a hell of a hockey player.”


But before Miele draws any comparisons to Mike Eruzione, the captain of the 1980 team, or thinks about who will play him in the sequel to “Miracle,” he has a simple message to all those jumping on the golden bandwagon.


Not so fast. 


“We still have a ways to go,” he said. “We’ll wait until the end for that.”

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