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A Beautiful Goal

By Chris Middlebrook, 07/08/19, 11:00AM CDT


To win the game. This mentality is hardwired into every single hockey player who has made the transition from hockey to bandy and has then skated for the US team in international competition. To win the game. It is a pillar of American culture, emphasized from an early age by demanding coaches and competitive parents. The quotes spotlighting this are many:

"The person who says winning isn't everything never won anything".  Mia Hamm

"Winning takes precedence over all"  Kobe Bryant

"Winning isn't everything. It is the only thing"  Vince Lombardi

But, you don't always win. You can't always win. This is especially true for the US bandy players and teams. All were winners in ice hockey, but from the first game against Ljusdal in 1981 through the next thirty seven years they are amateurs and often novices competing against the very best of the best. Elite bandy players and teams. World class athletes. So while the primary goal always remains to win the game, a second goal emerges. Never back down. Never give up or give in. Always compete face to face, toe to toe. For the full ninety minutes. Make the opponent earn their victory. Each game becomes a competition, not only to determine who will have more goals at the end, but also a competition that breaks down into the forty five minute halves, the five and one minute increments, and ultimately each and every individual challenge. This is also a pillar of American culture.

In early February 2018 the US is playing Finland in the quarterfinals of the World Championships. Finland, as expected, is winning. The score is 13-3 with only minutes remaining. But the US has not given in. They have played the Finns even in the second half.  Near center ice US fullback Andrew Knutson carries the ball, moving towards the Finnish goal. As he skates forward five Finnish defenders confidently wait for him. Deking from right to left Knutson loses the first Finn. He then skates directly towards the two center defenders. As they converge Knutson flips the ball in the air between and past them, then both skates and jumps through the two stunned defenders. The goalie comes out to sweep the ball away but he is not quick enough. With his right hand on the stick Knutson pulls the ball around the diving goalie. The open goal is two feet way. With one hand still on the stick Knutson flips the ball into the goal, then taps his stick once on the ice to complete the scoring play. As the ball comes to rest in the back of the goal a Finnish defender skates across the goal line and slams his stick into the back of the net. Andrew Knutson has won this challenge, one against five. It is an astoundingly beautiful goal.