Wanted: More Patriots in Pucks

Like a good many other American hockey fans, I’ve been underwhelmed by NBC’s hockey coverage during this first week of the Winter Olympic Games. Bumped off the big channel for ice dancing was the first indignity. Then last night, after a particularly long and trying day at work, I sat down to watch Nick Backstrom and his Swedish teammates take on Germany, over on MSNBC, just wanting a game and a bottle of beer or two to salvage my hump day, and right as a 0-0, potential upset intrigue was setting in deep in period one, off went hockey at the stroke of 8:00 and on went . . . Keith Olberman.

The schedule for the Olympic’s preliminary round of hockey was established months ago; couldn’t the peacock in that time decide whether it wanted politics or pucks on in prime-time on one of its outlets? That the game eventually was returned on CNBC was irrelevant to me; I’d been insulted enough.

I was beginning to feel a bit orphaned from my game, and I needed a puck pick-me-up.  Did I ever find it. A social media message last night from my friends Tommy Haines and Andrew Sherburne, makers of ‘Forgotten Miracle,’ delivered it:  A state senator in Minnesota named David Tomassoni took it upon himself this week to petition the White House to honor the 1960 U.S. Olympic hockey team. With a visit to the White House by the members of the team! Tomassoni sent a letter to President Obama making the suggestion.

The senator’s full press release calling for the honor can be found here. In it he notes:  “With the Winter Olympics in full swing in Vancouver and hockey once again taking center stage, it seems fitting that these extraordinary athletes receive their day in the spotlight . . . This seems to be an appropriate moment to invite the 1960 gold medal Olympic men’s hockey team to the White House to receive the long-delayed recognition they have never sought for themselves.”

Joining Tomassoni as signatories on the letter are Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, Senator Jim Metzen, and Senator Dan Sparks.

David Tomassoni is my new favorite politician. Actually, he’s my only favorite politician, as I didn’t have one before.

On Tomassoni’s web page you can send him an email if you so choose, as I did last night, and express your appreciation for his patriotic puck advocacy. And here’s the kicker: Tomassoni competed in the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament at Lake Placid — as a member of the Italian hockey team. He went on to play professional hockey in Italy for 16 years. I just love the symbolism of an Olympian who wore another nation’s hockey sweater pounding the drum for our boys in Red, White and Blue from 50 years ago.

Partisans and the clinically cynical will reflexively mock or demean such symbolic action by a politician, but not I. And I suspect that Tomassoni’s action isn’t entirely symbolic; why shouldn’t those hockey heroes from 50 years ago get their long overdue props at the people’s house? 

It seems to me that we are very much in an era in which patriotism has to some degree been a bit uprooted, supplanted, by post-nationalistic sensibilities. Certainly it seems a little less hip in Manhattan than in, say, Manhattan, Kansas. But I’ve never believed that any impulse toward global engagement needed to occur mutually exclusive from nationalistic allegiance. Loyalty to one’s nation isn’t a Cold War relic or a passe pursuit. Necessarily nations breed and perpetuate robust differences within their cultures. And that’s something to celebrate. On even the most local of levels, an American politician, in my worldview, is dutybound to be patriotic. It’s good behavior by public officials — by our leaders. 

But it’s been striking to me in the past week to encounter — admittedly very sporadically — what I regard as a radical notion on the part of some local hockey fans to root against the Yanks and for Russia, precisely because the captain of the Caps skates for them. I want Ovi to score three goals in every game he plays in the Olympics, but should Russia face the U.S. I’d want our guys to win 4-3. I could no sooner root against my country in international competition than I could run over my mother with my car.

There just seems something intrinsically pernicious about post-American sensibilities to me, something seriously mis-shapen about such an individual’s soul. Not to get too psychoanalytic about it, but it does strike me as a form of self-loathing. And as it relates to a hockey competition, I don’t know how any American puckhead could watch something like ‘Forgotten Miracle’ — or any artistic representation of extraordinary feats by American hockey heroes in international competition — and, fortuitously encountering one such hero in a tavern, not feel an impulse to buy him a cold one. How then could the same individual subsequently root against the colors of our sweater?  

It’s true that I’m drawn to David Tomassoni’s letter and campaign by virtue of its championing American hockey heroes, but I also think this story has captured my attention precisely because it’s an act of national love and loyalty that didn’t originate from a Washington representative. Tomassoni’s letter doesn’t sound much like prose from the pen of a Washington lawyer; instead, it comes across as plainspeak from a hockey heart in our Heartland. Also, an old fashioned patriot. Maybe Minnesotans can entice Tomassoni to run for Congress.

This entry was posted in Hockey Heroes, Morning cup-a-joe, Olympic hockey, USA Hockey. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Wanted: More Patriots in Pucks

  1. Paul says:

    I watched the 1980 game (on my parent’s then-antique Zenith that you had to change the channels with pliers) and avidly cheered for the USA. Remember however, that it was a different time for the Olympics. US players were amateurs and were up against the Soviet Red Army! Things are different now, they are all well-paid professionals. Also, being from Minnesota some of the 1980 players were literally neighbors.

    Perhaps my soul is mis-shapen…but a similar factor played in my cheering for Russia when we played Russia in Turin. I got to know (very casually) Mr. and Mrs. Ovechkin who frequently were outside then-MCI Center smoking during regular season game intermissions. (I had no connection to any US players-or parents and also had a sour taste about US professional player misbehavior in the earlier Nagano Olympic games.) There was a personal connection, (plus the Caps connection) that did not exist for the US team then (or today) that made me cheer for Russia, it sort of temporarily trumped national pride…which perhaps is not a bad thing from time to time.

    If you would have told me in 1980 that I would be cheering for Russia in 30 years because I knew one of players parents….I would have fallen off the couch and crushed my new-fangled Pong console.

    Now on Sunday things are different….USA all they way! Canada is the new Red Army.

  2. Sherrie Van Houten says:

    You are discovering a syndrome that has plagued Red Wings’ fans for years. There are 6 teams with legitimate claims to my support at the Olympics. I don’t expect the USA to make the medal round, so that will probably eliminate the problem. But if they did…..cheering against Team Sweden would be close to running MY mother over with a car! With luck this situation will sort itself out as the competition continues.

  3. bob says:

    If the 1960 USA team is the Forgotten Miracle, the silver medal at Sapporo in 1972 is the Unknown Miracle.


    Well if it comes down Russia or Sweden vs Canada then go Russia or Sweden.

    No way I can deal with the media slobber of St Cindy of the Confluence winning a Cup and a gold medal within a year.

  5. RC says:

    You have accurately captured the essence of Senator Tomassoni in your description of him. That’s David! Yes, he would make an excellent US congressman, but don’t go putting ideas into his head, because we need him to keep skating for Team Northern Minnesota at the capitol in St. Paul.

    P.S. Go, USA!

  6. odessa steps magazine says:

    I prefer the peacock having hockey on a dedicated channel where it is less likely to be interrupted (except for curling overruns) than if it was on NBC proper, where would be seeing Up Close and Personal features on Sidney or one of the American players and cut-aways to figure skating during the games.

  7. Pingback: On Frozen Blog › Hockey Olympians Still Forgotten at the White House

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