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Hockey Shines at The Olympics

Epic gold medal game has viewers riveted

It will be a day, and a moment, that will never be matched again in our lifetimes. An entire nation, Canada, reveling in a Winter Olympics on its home soil. Their hockey team playing for supremacy. Standing in their way, the upstart USA team, trying to prove they can hang with the big boys.

Other than in Canada, nowhere was the excitement and tension felt more than right here in Buffalo, where our geography as a border city had people riveted by the action. At one end there was our all-world goaltender, Ryan Miller, putting a spotlight on Buffalo and the Sabres. Behind the bench at the other end, there was Lindy Ruff, looking stoic and sedate as he helped to pilot the Canadian team.

The numbers tell it all: 27.6 million viewers tuned across the United States (23.9 rating, 37 share), the largest such tally since the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” gold medal game against Finland, which drew 32.8 million viewers.

Of course, when it comes to local and regional markets, who else but Buffalo would emerge as the leading city. Here the game drew a 32.6 rating and a 51 share, meaning that more than half of all Buffalo households were tuned in to the game at some point in the telecast. In downtown Buffalo and along Allentown and Elmwood, the streets were eerily quiet, but taverns and restaurants were packed, bars three deep in some places as hockey fans chanted “USA! USA!” and wore American flags as the border war unfolded.

Taro Tsujimoto was following all the hockey action throughout the Olympics, even though his beloved Team Japan was nowhere to be found. His fun takes, as usual…

Taro Sez...

• On the quarterfinal matchup vs. Switzerland: “A Swiss named Hiller will be no match for Miller.”

• Waiting to see who the USA will face in the semis: “If Miller is in, neither Czech nor Finn will be able to win.”

• Best NBC quote, Part 1, Bob Costas: “One of the greatest sports events I have ever seen.”

• Best NBC quote, Part 2, Al Michaels: “You could not have written a better script for this country. The goal that will resonate throughout history.”

• One might wonder if Ryan Miller will be physically and mentally exhausted coming home after the grueling Olympics schedule, but say the same for the overworked hockey announcers working for NBC. Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Kenny Albert, and Joe Micheletti worked at least two games a day and probably never got much sleep. Some of the wear and tear began to show as the tournament reached its conclusion.

• Did anyone see the closing credits of the NBC telecast following the closing ceremonies? Of course not. Go to commercial and then right to the premiere episode of some cheesy new sitcom.

• Props to the Canadian hockey gals, what with their stogies and their liquor down on the ice, just minutes after the medal ceremonies had concluded and the crowds had cleared the arena.

• Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is ready to clean house in his country’s Olympic program after their woeful showing in these games. Russia had their hats handed to them by the Canadians in the mens hockey quarterfinals, 7-3, with superstar Alexander Ovechkin a non-factor and the nine Russian NHLers on the squad a huge disappointment. Perhaps Putin should do what figure skater Evgeni Plushenko did—award the Russian hockey team a “platinum medal.”

• How can the NHL get some immediate impact from the star power of these Olympics? Put the Sabres on the NBC Sunday national broadcasts. Stat. No time is better than now to capitalize on Ryan Miller’s mojo. March 21, Buffalo at Carolina is a possible flex game. Yeah, it’s Carolina. But it’s Ryan Miller. Make the move, NBC.

• Will the NHL players appear in Sochi come 2014? Commissioner Gary Bettman says, “It’s an open question. I know the media is making a big deal over the fact that we haven’t made a decision yet. It’s great to be here and these Olympic Games have been fabulous. The hockey has been great. That doesn’t take into account that there are issues that we’re going to have to deal with in deciding what makes sense going forward. You talk about Nagano in 1998, Czech played Russia for the gold medal game, and we didn’t get much of an impact being halfway around the world. What’s interesting to me is, we haven’t said no.

“We have to sit with our Player’s Association. It’s a joint decision. We’ll meet with the IIHF and the IOC, to make sure that on things that we’ve learned about participating in these games over the last four Olympics, three and this one, whether or not we can do things better. Then it’ll be a balancing act, and it’s something ultimately that the clubs will decide, not me.”

• Props to the Sabres for the (as always) outstanding video montage prior to Wednesday night’s game against the Capitals, recapping the Olympics that were in a very poignant way.

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