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The World's Game

Well, at least it was good for the game.... Sunday's gold medal hockey game was great theater, another excellent hockey game between the United States and Canada and a fine advertisement for hockey the way it ought to be played.

Unfortunately, the wrong team won.

I say that without a trace of fatuity or disrespect to Canada. The wrong team won.

All credit to the young American team, and its local captain, Jamie Langenbrunner. They were the last undefeated team in the tournament, in part because they had the best goaltender in the tournament, and they did what they had to do to get where they got.

Zach Parise's goal in the last minute of regulation was simply no less than the Americans deserved, playing on the road in a supposedly neutral tournament. They had the momentum heading into the overtime, but there disaster struck in the form of Sidney Crosby.

Boom. The wrong team won.

It would have been an even better advertisement for hockey in the United States had the Americans managed a winning goal in such an adversarial environment. Even better, it would have put the lie to perhaps the most obnoxious statement to come out of the Winter Olympics.

That being, somehow, that hockey is 'Canada's game,' as exhibited by signs and banners all over the building in Vancouver. This tournament showed that nothing could be further from the truth.

Perhaps more than any other sport with the exception of soccer, hockey is the world's game. The level of play we saw from the finalists, as well as teams such as Sweden, Finland, Russia, Slovakia and even Switzerland, which extended Canada to a shootout in the preliminary round, showed that such xenophobia on the part of our neighbors to the north is ill-placed to say the least.

It would have been the best advertisement for the game I could imagine for Canada not to have won, especially on Sunday. Yes, they won both gold medals, and they beat the Americans twice to do it. That's certainly disappointing from the standpoint of USA Hockey, but the level of play seen in both the men's and women's tournaments shows pretty clearly that it's time to put the jingoism aside.

Like it or not, the Americans have arrived. They're shoulder to shoulder with the Europeans, and now the Canadians, and better than many.

And, it's only going to get better from here, as youth programs cranked up thanks to the Miracle on Ice team of 1980 produce better and better players. The time is rapidly coming when the favorites for hockey gold will not wear red and white, and that will be good for the game.

In the meantime, though, we're left with the memory of a great run and gut-wrenching setbacks, especially in the men's tournament.

I don't mind saying it - the American men deserved better, especially playing on the road.

In the gold medal game, the shots on goal were dead even at 32-32 after regulation time and 39-36 for the game. You can't say the Americans were dominated. Because they weren't.

They can go back to their teams with their heads held high. The only real disappointment was from their nation's network.

Someone needs to tell the good people at NBC that it's OK to show a hockey game live when someone also happens to be figure skating. Last week's American win against Canada - the first in 50 years in the Olympics - was relegated to MSNBC, meaning it was not on free television.

That's frankly embarrassing. Yes, figure skating has the reputation of being the world's favorite sport once every four years, but the drama of this tournament should not have shunted it to second place in the pecking order.

It was great stuff. And not as many people saw it because of the network's programming decision. That's really too bad.

Because, you see, it's not really Canada's game after all. Hockey is worldwide. It's time to treat the game as such.