-- TORONTO -- Memory remains a curious, dimly lit thing, as mysterious as the universe. Why some mundane memories wait within easy reach, why critical parts of our lives sometimes vanish, what gets stored and where -- centuries of research and decades of lobotomies have given us a still-incomplete understanding of how our brains retain the moments that make up our lives. Our brain just does or doesn't do its work, and none of it is really up to us. We're beholden to an automated system that is both a miracle and prone to breakdown.
There are nine players on Team USA's entry at the World Cup of Hockey who were part of the 2010 team that lost the Olympic gold medal to Canada in Vancouver. For Canadians, Sidney Crosby's overtime goal is remembered as a great, unifying moment in national history. Not surprisingly, those nine American players have different memories of it.
"I just remember us sitting there, not believing it was over," Jack Johnson says. "It was a tough pill to swallow at the time. It was a tough way to win a silver medal."
"We came out for overtime and got quite a few chances," Joe Pavelski says. "I'd just come off a shift. I'd just had a chance. I got back to the bench and remember saying, 'Oh, that was almost there.' Twenty seconds later, the game was over. There was a feeling with that team that you didn't think it would end that way. When it did, it's just tough."
"What could have been definitely haunts a lot of us," Erik Johnson says. "It could have gone either way. You never know how many chances you'll have to put on the USA jersey and get the job done for your country."
Athletes talk all the time about the gift of a short memory, how they almost train themselves to forget. They can't allow a bad performance to stick. They can't be burdened by the accumulation of failures that professional athletes, that all of us, endure.
Ryan Suter, who was on the ice for the goal, has never watched footage of it. When he searches for his memory of it, it's not nearly as clear as it is for teammates who had a far worse vantage point. He has questions about it.
The role of Canada's Jarome Iginla in the play, his pass from the boards, doesn't exist for Suter. "Crosby was going up the wall with [Brian] Rafalski, maybe?" he says uncertainly. "And he stopped, grabbed it, and took it to the net and put it 5-hole." Suter has no recollection of Crosby's frantic cry of "Iggy!" for the puck, either. He has managed to edit out frames of the film.
Different parts of the moment have disappeared for his teammates.
"I don't really remember the noise," Jack Johnson says. When he replays the moment in his mind, it's a silent movie.
Pavelski can't remember how he felt physically immediately after: "I'm not sure you have a lot of feeling right then, to be honest."
But perhaps the most interesting and instructive facet of Team USA's collective memory of 2010 is the lesson the players now are choosing to take from it. Going into Tuesday night's must-win against Canada, the Vancouver Nine have somehow decided to put a positive spin on that heartbreaking defeat. They don't remember how close they came. They remember how close they came.
"Those experiences give you a little bit of confidence," David Backes says. "That gold-medal game was an overtime game. We had a few chances early, but they were able to find one that goes in the back of the net and win the gold medal. Those types of experiences tell us that we're able to beat this team."
"It was a great experience to start off your Olympic career," Patrick Kane says. "Playing as an American in Canada, a hostile environment, pretty much everyone rooting against you, being able to play at that level in that competition was very special. The Canadians wanted one thing, and that was the ice hockey gold medal, and we were one goal away from taking that away from them. I have a lot of good memories from that tournament."
"I thought about it for a long time, one goal away from a gold medal," Jack Johnson says. "But you come to appreciate that silver medal. That tournament was the best hockey experience of my life."
"It's an experience that you lean on when times are tough," Ryan Kesler says. "You remember those feelings. In that case, you strive not to feel it again."
We might not have much control over what we remember. But if Team USA's players have taught us anything about the science of memory, if there is one truth about memory that they have to believe, it's that we do have a choice about what we do with the information that our minds have determined to keep.
We can choose to see the night we lost the gold medal as the night we won silver. We can choose to see our scars as wounds or badges. We can wonder about what might have been or marvel at what was.
We can forget and focus on our breakdowns. Or we can remember our miracles.