The Olympics are a time of celebration and competition among countries, and while there are many great events, ice hockey might take the cake. I don’t think there is another sport that completely stops their season to have the world’s greatest players compete at the highest level--but the NHL does. Rivals become teammates, friends become enemies, and for two and a half weeks, it makes for compelling competition.

Individual events are entertaining, but there is something about watching a team compete that makes winning feel more special. Each player puts aside individual agenda for the common good. Players don’t step on the ice for themselves--they do it for their teammates and their country.

Follow my numbers:

  • There are 12 teams in the tournament.
  • Eight have legitimate gold medal aspirations.
  • Eventually the field is shrunk to eight, for a single elimination tournament.
  • Seven games to determine the best in the world for the next 4 years. (Canada defended home ice in 2010, and Russia will be looking to do the same in 2014.)

Everyone seems to remember Landon Donovan’s goal in the 2010 World Cup that sent the US to the elimination round, but a few months earlier, it was Zach Parise playing the role of American Hero, by sending the gold medal game to overtime with less than 30 seconds left. How can you not feel patriotic watching those clips?

The US hasn’t won gold since the infamous 1980s “Miracle on Ice” team. The current US team heads to Sochi with arguably the highest expectations since NHL players have been allowed to compete. Parise will be captaining the US this time around, but they won’t be catching anyone by surprise.

Can you think of anything else that happened in the 1980 olympics? 2002? 2006? How about even 2010? Hockey is THE sport of the Winter Olympics.

If you pay attention, I guarantee it’s something you’ll never forget.