It went, miraculously, to overtime.
No one thought it would. No one believed the Germans, 66:1 bet to win gold in PyeongChang, would stay competitive with the Russian men in the ice hockey finals. In the end, in sudden-death overtime, Russian forward Kirill Kaprizov blasted a shot into the upper right hand corner of the net to end Germany’s incredible run, and take the game 4-3.
Team OAR won gold. Team Germany won silver….a most unexpected silver.
After losing their first two games in the tournament, Team Germany started winning, and then defeated Sweden in overtime 4-3, and Canada 4-3 in the semifinals, setting up their improbable match against the Olympic Athletes of Russia (OAR). Germany had never been to a finals before, and were happily aware that a silver medal was still all gravy.
But they realized early on, they had a chance for gold. At 16:44 of the third period, Jonas Muller took a pass from Yasin Ehliz, held the puck looking for an opening, and then rocketed a shot into the net. Germany led 3-2. All they had to do was hold on for a little over 3 minutes to achiever their first ever gold medal.
Thirty seconds later, Russia gets called for a penalty. Could it really be that easy? Did they believe in miracles?
With only a minute 11 seconds left in the game, the Russian goalie, Vasili Koshechkin, went to the bench. Players on the ice were five on five, but the Russian net was empty. Then, at a most inopportune time, the Germans had a brain cramp. As they approached the Russian blue line, the Germans dumped the puck, essentially handing the puck back to the Russians. They could have passed it back towards their own zone, and killed off more precious seconds, but instead, the Germans gave up control of the puck to the Russians.
And they took advantage.
The Russians carried it into the German zone, and you could feel an opportunity building. The puck came loose to the left of the German goalie, and the Russian forward, Nikita Gusev swatted at the puck, somehow knocking in a shorthanded goal, with only 55 seconds left in the game to tie the match.
As NBC analyst Mike Milbury intoned, “Just when you thought it was destiny for Germany….”
When the game goes to overtime, they play four on four, which is thought to be an advantage for the better skating, better passing team. That would be the Russians. And while Team OAR did not dominate, they made the great passes when they needed, the final snap pass to Kaprizov putting an end to an incredible ice hockey finals.
So for a second time in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympiad, we saw the raising of the Olympic Flag in place of the Russian flag, and the Olympic anthem playing in place of the Russian anthem.
But you could sense that the crowd and the players were singing a different song.
The Russians didn’t care. They won one of the most incredible Olympic ice hockey finals ever. And they were the champions.