VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Two things I learned during my 1.6 kilometer walk from the hotel to the main media center this morning:
1. Tim Horton's does not take Visa. Dunkin's, you're my home.
2. Roberto Luongo jerseys are suddenly a very popular staple of the Canadian national wardrobe.
The reaction to Canada's 5-3 loss to the United States last night has actually been pretty reasonable. Oh, as my colleague Eric Wilbur documented earlier today, the newspapers spent quite a few column inches this morning documenting the many different ways the sky is falling -- Sidney Crosby (who was dominant in defeat) is too young to lead, Mike Babcock couldn't buy a clue if they were available at the concession stand, Martin Brodeur has turned into Denis Lemieux, and so on.
The fans -- which includes pretty much everyone here save for the foreign media -- seem relatively assured that the stacked Canada squad can still make a run to the podium. One fan I spoke to told me that the two players they feared most coming into the Olympics were Alex Ovechkin and Ryan Miller, so defeat wasn't something they considered an impossibility. There's concern, sure, because the road just got much tougher; they'll deal with Germany tomorrow. But there is still more revelry in the streets than there is panic.
There was also the recognition by hockey aficionados that Miller's performance last night was something truly special (though I must say those hyperbole specialists who raced to compare it to the "Miracle On Ice" lack perspective, context and common sense).
Miller wasn't so much the proverbial hot goalie; it was more than that. He rose to the occasion when the spotlight could have been blinding, and it was awesome to witness. Which, come to think of it, happens to have been recurring theme regarding a number of US athletes so far.
So as we turn the corner and head toward the homestretch of these tragedy-tainted but tremendously tremendous games, here is one writer's look -- with an admitted US tilt -- at the eight best moments so far.
1. Ryan Miller makes 42 saves as the US hockey team stuns Canada. OK, the parameters here are supposed to be specific moments, and we're already breaking them. So much for discipline. But you tell me this:
How is it possible to pinpoint just one of the Buffalo Sabres star goalie's saves last night?
We could name five or so ridiculous stops just from the game's final five minutes, when Team Canada -- which, let's admit it, looked like a vastly superior team everywhere but in net and on the scoreboard -- controlled the puck like the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens playing against Pee-Wees.
I suppose if we had to pinpoint one specific save . . . well, forget it, we just can't. There was a shot from the slot by Jarome Iginla in the second period, three or four apiece from point-blank range by Sidney Crosby and Rick Nash at various points, and so many more.
The reality is that Miller was under siege all night, and he never wavered, always remaining steady and poised while mixing in the spectacular when the situation demanded it. It was the breadth rather than the specifics that made his performance the defining one of the games so far.
Now we'll wait and see if Miller's star turn -- predicted, by the way, by a certain former goalie who knows a thing or two about Olympic success -- can continue all the way to the podium. I can tell you it wouldn't shock anyone here.
But you get the sense that Miller, whose personality profile seems to fall somewhere between free spirit and anti-hero, has never for a split-second believed he requires -- yes, redemption -- despite the scorn aimed his way after a dismal performance in Turin, when his best finish in five events was fifth place. It's always seemed to me that challenging the mountain on his own terms always meant more to him than winning on somebody else's.
Maybe it's maturity (he's 32), maybe it's fatherhood (he has a 22-month-old daughter), but here he seems to have found a happy medium between what he wants and what others want from him.
His momentum began with the bronze in the downhill, accelerated with his silver in the super-G, and zipped and weaved through the gates with his improbable gold in the super-G, during which a hellacious run in the slalom -- hardly his specialty the last several years -- helped him overcome a seventh-place finish in the downhill. And with two more events to ski here, he hasn't even crossed the finish line yet.
The Bode Miller we saw Sunday -- smiling and waving atop a podium -- is the one we wanted to see four years ago. Being here and savoring the experience seems to outwardly matter to him now, and for fans, that puts just a little more luster on the gold.
3. Apolo Anton Ohno sets a new medals standard for US winter athletes. If you've followed short-track speedskating even casually, you've heard this saying regarding the sport's anything-can-happen ethos countless times:
Well, that's short-track!
So it's remarkable -- and perhaps a little bit fortunate, too -- that the 27-year-old Ohno has won seven medals, a career record for US Winter Olympic competitors, in such a freewheeling, unpredictable sport.
While his feat is slightly exaggerated -- he owns three fewer golds than long-track legend Bonnie Blair, whose record he broke with his bronze in the 1,500 meters -- that is not to diminish his accomplishment or talent.
Ohno has the vision of a great running back, and watching him pick his hole, then shoot through it with a half-lap remaining in the 1,500-meter final to secure the bronze, was to watch an elite athlete at the very top of his game. Think vintage Barry Sanders on skates.
4. Lindsey Vonn justifies the hype with gold in the women's downhill: Vonn -- personable, attractive, and downright dominating on the Alpine slopes -- was an easy choice for the pre-Olympic face of the US team; she was practically a household name upon arrival in Vancouver even among those who had never seen her on a pair of skis. It might have been fair to say she was overexposed, especially following her appearance in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
But in the early days of the games, Vonn was engulfed not so much by media as she was by uncertainty. A painful shin injury lingered and limited her practice time, and the unsuitable weather conditions at Whistler wreaked havoc with the schedule.
In the end, the latter turned out as a blessing, as her injury got a few more days to heal. When it finally came time to ski, she lived up to her advance billing and then some, zipping down the course more than a half-second faster than silver medalist and teammate Julia Mancuso.
We'd seen a lot of Lindsey Vonn before the games. It was cool to finally see what she could accomplish during them.
5. Shaun White reaches rarefied air in the men's halfpipe. I'll admit it. I arrived here lacking a full grasp on the appeal of White; he struck me as a red-headed Spicoli who happened to be charismatic and talented enough to somehow command $9 million a year from Generation X-Games.
I will leave here, however, with a full and awe-stricken appreciation of White's daring, athleticism, and ability to rise to the moment -- literally so when he roared out of the gate during the first run of the halfpipe final and immediately grabbed "big air," reaching heights every one of his competitors cannot come close to achieving.
6. Hannah Kearney wins the first US gold medal in Vancouver. In retrospect, the Norwich, Vt. native set the tone/theme for these Olympics with her victory in the women's moguls.
It appeared Jennifer Heil, the 2006 gold medalist, had given Canada its long-anticipated first gold medal on home soil when she took over first place as the second-to-last competitor to navigate the course.
Only Kearney remained.
When her run was done, Heil's gold had become silver, and Canada's wait was extended another day.
The host country entered these games banking on its "Own the Podium" initiative, but the US, with an Olympics-leading 24 medals to Canada's nine, has made the podium their own. It all began with Kearney.
7. Seth Wescott defends his snowboardcross gold from Turin. I'm telling you, television doesn't do justice to the out-and-out insanity of this sport, in which the racers jostle for position around turns and straightaways, and soar through the air at rapid speeds on snowboards.
And that last stretch before the finish line? Up close, it looks like an elevator dropping from the fifth story to the bottom floor.
Which makes it all the more remarkable that Wescott, the easygoing 33-year-old and the pride of Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine, remained the only snowboarder to win Olympic gold in the event with a spectacular midair Mainer pass of Canadian Mike Robertson just before the finish line on the Cypress Mountain course.
These guys are nuts . . . but Wescott sure does make crazy look like a whole lot of fun.
8. Wayne Gretzky catches a ride in the back of a pickup truck. It was a somehow appropriate, in a casual, charmingly Canadian way, and little bizarre, too, to see the Great One slowly making his away across Vancouver in the back of a white pickup truck while lugging along the Olympic torch for the sort-of-grand finale of the Opening Ceremony.
But what truly made the moment was the unmistakable look of abject terror on Gretzky's face as the one-truck motorcade chugged through the streets to the second cauldron near the International Broadcast Center.
In fact, if you looked closely enough, you could practically read his thoughts:
"How did I get talked into this? . . . Man, this thing is hot . . . I hope I don't set my hair on fire . . . Are we there yet? . . . Hey, driver, slow down, it's not a race, eh! . . . Iconin' ain't easy . . . Are we there yet? . . . I wish Dave Semenko were here to help me right now. He'd know what to do . . . Don't touch me, people! . . . I wonder if 'Great One On Board' bumper stickers would sell . . . Are we there yet? . . . I knew I shoulda made Nash do this."
So there is our eight.
What and who are we missing? Evan Lysacek? Shani Davis? Julia Mancuso? Hannah Teter?
What good memories will stick with you?