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USA-Canada hockey sets TV viewing records for NBC

March 1, 2010 |  1:05 pm

Canada's 3-2 win over the U.S. in the Olympic gold medal hockey game Sunday was seen by an average of 27.6 million, the most-viewed hockey game in any setting since the 1980 Lake Placid Gold Medal game in the year where the U.S. capped off its "Do you believe in miracles," semifinal win over the Soviet Union by beating Finland in the final game.

The tape-delayed Feb. 24, 1980, U.S.-Finland game had 32.8 million viewers, and the semifinal game against Russia (also tape-delayed) averaged 34.2 million viewers. The 2002 Salt Lake City gold medal game, also between the U.S. and Canada, was seen by 17.1 million in comparison.

“We’ve been fortunate to have a front-row seat to observe a nation of fans that appreciates winter sports, is proud of their winter sport heritage and celebrates success, no matter which country wins. So it was only fitting yesterday when Sidney Crosby scored the goal to give Canadians the gold that meant so much to this country,” said Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics.  “ ‘O Canada’ will never be the same.”

According to the Nielsen Co., the viewing audience peaked at 34.8 million viewers between 2:30 and 3:06 PST, when Team USA's Zach Parise sent the game to overtime with 24.4 seconds left in regulation. 

The 27.6 million who watched the hockey game is more than the 24 million who saw the Rose Bowl or the 17.6 who viewed the 2009 NCAA basketball championship game and even more than the 25.9 million who watched the 2010 Grammy Awards. 

If you missed the game or forgot to record it, Universal Sports will re-broadcast it Tuesday and Wednesday at 5 p.m. PST and again at 8 PST.

Not surprisingly the game was most popular in the U.S. in three cities with traditional hockey followings -- Buffalo (home of U.S. star Patrick Kane), Pittsburgh (Crosby is its Penguins star) and Hockeytown itself, Detroit. Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Denver and Philadelphia round out the top 10.

-- Diane Pucin

Photo: Canada players celebrate following their victory over Team USA on Sunday. Credit: Saeed Khan / AFP/Getty Images