TORONTO – Ron Wilson could have pointed to the eye-opening television ratings. He could have talked about how a young group overcame its inexperience to challenge for a gold medal, and how the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team he coached might finally have lit the flame of interest in its home country.
But he did not.
On his first day back to work at his regular job as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Wilson opted against highlighting the positives in the U.S. team’s unexpected march to the championship game at the Vancouver Olympics. He suggested the 3-2 overtime loss to Canada on Sunday, which has generated a considerable buzz on both sides of the border, was just that – a loss.
“In our business, it’s about winning the whole thing, and not putting it into perspective,” Wilson told reporters Tuesday. “You don’t think in terms of anything but winning the whole thing. In five years, no one’s going to give a damn. It’s who won. I mean, we know that.”
That would mean many millions of television viewers will have to forget what they saw over the weekend. NBC reported it drew an average of 27.6 million viewers for the gold medal game, the largest audience for a hockey game in the U.S. in 30 years, since the fabled “Miracle on Ice” run at the 1980 Winter Games.
In describing the numbers in a story on its website, The New York Times ran a headline: “Minor Miracle on Ice: A Stunning Audience.”
The Canadian television numbers were also staggering, with two-thirds of the population tuning in to watch as Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal almost eight minutes into overtime. Wilson bristled when asked about that extra period.
“You go into overtime, anything can happen,” Wilson said. “The puck hits the referee’s skate – no one’s mentioned that – and that ended up causing kind of a kerfuffle that happened in the corner, and they took advantage of that.”
He also fired a salvo at the Canadian media for what he framed as an attack on goaltender Martin Brodeur. The 37-year-old began the tournament as the starting goalie, but ceded the job to Roberto Luongo after Canada fell to the U.S. in the preliminary round.
“The biggest surprise to me was how everybody threw Marty Brodeur – the greatest goalie in the history of the game – under the bus and backed over him,” Wilson said. “That’s the greatest goalie who’s ever played, and it kind of almost tarnished his career on one night.
“He didn’t have a good night, but part of that had to do with how well we pressured him.”
The mood was lighter down the hall. The Carolina Hurricanes were at the Air Canada Centre to open the final stretch of the NHL season, and forward Eric Staal was still glowing over his gold medal as he was swarmed in the visitor’s dressing room.
“It’s been a whirlwind the last couple of days, obviously winning gold and then quickly celebrating and then heading on a flight here,” Staal said. “It’s been a lot of fun here and it’s been a great experience.”
Before he grew tired of Olympic-related questions, Wilson also offered praise for the Vancouver organizers. He said he “couldn’t believe all the red-and-white I saw, and the Team Canada jerseys.”
It was loud, he added, with a jovial atmosphere and camaraderie among even rival fans.
“It’s not disappointing to come back to the Leafs,” Wilson said. “We’re probably all still disappointed that we didn’t reach the goal we set out, which is a gold medal.
“We had come so close. That’s going to sting for a while.”