Although the United States men's Olympic hockey team came up dramatically short in its gold medal pursuit at the Vancouver Winter Games, the architects of Team USA still feel in some way like they came out on top.
Hockey USA brass convened on Thursday to reflect on the team's success at the Games, which culminated with a silver medal after a thrilling overtime loss to Canada in the final on Sunday.
General manager Brian Burke believes the game of hockey gained traction with American audiences because of the Olympic tournament and viewership and interest will be boosted during the regular NHL season.
"I think people watched it and thought, 'I'm going to give this a try,"' said Burke during a conference call. "We got the world's greatest game. This game has everything you love in sports: it's got finesse, it's got speed, it's got contact. It's the fastest sport played without an engine."
Even if viewers weren't fans of the game prior to Vancouver 2010, hockey inevitably picked up American audiences who watched the tournament for simple reasons of patriotism, he added.
"I watched curling, which I don't understand or like, but I watched it when an American team was curling," said Burke. "There's a patriotism and an interest level in the Olympics that no other pro sport is going to capture."
American broadcaster NBC has said Sunday's gold medal game was the most-watched hockey game in 30 years, drawing an average viewership of 27.6 million. Not since the finals of the Americans' 1980 Miracle On Ice run - when the U.S. secured gold against Finland - had so many viewed a hockey game on American television (32.8 million).
The game was also viewed by about 10.5 million more people - a 61 per cent increase - than the 2002 matchup between Canada and the U.S. at Salt Lake City.
Dave Ogrean, USA Hockey's executive director, echoed Burke assessment, but stopped short of comparing Olympic viewership numbers in the United States to NHL regular season games.
"It's not feasible to compare Olympic ratings to ratings for the NHL season," said Ogrean.
"Having said that, it is likely it will translate the rest of the season into some of the viewing numbers. You have a lot players who were showcased as the greatest in the world for people who are not hockey viewers, and you'll see some residual affect over this.
"It gives us an audience of people who are perhaps more willing to listen than they were a month ago because they've seen some of the greatest hockey ever played and fell in love."
U.S. head coach Ron Wilson, only days removed from standing behind the bench when Sidney Crosby scored in OT to claim Canada's gold, was a little less upbeat about his Olympic experience. It was tough to play so well throughout the tournament and then lose, he said.
"It's like the first time you find out there was no Santa Claus," Wilson said. "You believe in it, then suddenly it's kind of yanked out.
"Overtime is a tough way to lose, because you don't have a chance to respond. Just like it's the greatest way to win. It will always sting."
-with files from The Associated Press
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