VANCOUVER, British Columbia --
There will be some editing on the mask before Team USA opens the 2010 Olympic men's tournament Tuesday against Switzerland, the bane of all works of art. (Editing. Not the Swiss.) The bit about Miller Time is out according to the Miss Grundys of the International Olympic Committee, who howl whenever they see a possible commercial link befouling their Games -- at least one from which they aren't getting a cut. The Matt Man tribute to his cousin,
But of all the bold pictures and stirring words and enduring symbols that grace this mask, the one thing a paint brush should absolutely not be allowed to touch is Ryan Miller's kick-butt Uncle Sam.
Ryan Miller, Uncle Sam Needs You!
The conventional wisdom is these Olympics will be a goaltenders' tournament, a six-game sprint to gold that will turn on the play of a goalie. "That's because it's really hard to play well defensively and cohesively in less than a week, and your goalie is going to be called upon to bail you out in certain situations," Team USA coach
But of all those with a grand shot at a medal -- this typist is guessing the U.S. will win bronze, behind Canada and Russia -- the team most in need of stellar goaltending probably is Uncle Sam's hockey heroes. Not that this small, quick team is callow, but those five interlocking rings that were originally painted on the chin of Miller's mask might as well represent teething rings. Thirteen of the 23 players on Team USA are 25 or younger. After squeezing all that it could out of the fabulous American players that starred in the mid-1990s, USA Hockey finally decided it needed a change for Vancouver. Who knew the change would involve a whole shipment of Pampers?
(If that is not the official plastic diaper of Vancouver 2010, our most humble apologies.)
To extend the scatological analogy, younger players make mistakes that force a goalie to clean up the mess. Says Team USA general manager
"From my perspective, I just want to do what I've always done -- just giving the guys a chance to win," Miller said. "Being in the right position. I'm not going to change the way I play. I'm not all of a sudden being a guy who sits back in the net and tries to make big glove saves all the time. I'm going to be out challenging ... Getting hit square in the chest a lot. That's what pretty much makes me a good goaltender. Making guys change their minds. Making guys miss the play they might want to make."
In the next fortnight, America will find out if this truly is Miller Time, no matter what his mask winds up advertising. And if he does steal a game or maybe even a gold medal, he will end up in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Foam. Er, Fame.