Canada Rejoices! Hockey Gold!
posted by Chad on 2/25/02
The Olympics are a time when the world comes together to celebrate the joys of competition, sport, and humanity. A showcase for the world’s best, where young athletes bring not only their own hopes, but also carry the dreams of entire nations. While corporate sponsorship and drugging issues do come into the spotlight at times, it’s truly an event where people come together and rejoice at the thrill of competing with each other.
At least that’s what it’s supposed to be: but the only thing I gave a fuck about was the hockey tournament. The rest of the Olympics were irrelevant.
It may be hard to grasp for foreigners, but us Canadians live and die by our hockey. It’s bigger than the news. It’s bigger than religion. It’s bigger than life. And this Olympic hockey tournament ended up becoming bigger than hockey itself.
Tonight, Canada celebrates the gold medal in both Men’s and Women’s Ice Hockey. To the surprise of no one, nothing else remotely matters in this country.
The Canadian women’s hockey team is not to be overlooked, even though their accomplishments are greatly overshadowed by the men’s success. The women played with just as much pride as the men, set the same goals, and reaped the same result. The gold medal game was against the rival American team, which had beaten Canada in their previous 8 meetings. Before the game, the US team laid a Canadian flag on the floor of the dressing room, an act that infuriated Canadians coast-to-coast. Despite being the heavy underdog and fighting against an official that might as well be wearing an American jersey, Canada survived the mighty American women. Canada scored the game-winning goal with only a second left in the second period, and held off the third period onslaught to become the first Canadian female hockey team to ever capture gold at the Olympics.
When the game ended with Canada winning 3 – 2, tournament MVP Canadian Hayley Wickenheiser said, “The Americans had our flag on their floor in the dressing room and now I want to know if they want us to sign it.” If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned. Don’t fuck with the pride of Canadians while on ice.
The women’s victory was fantastic: but the hopes of our nation fell on the men representing it. These home-grown boys left to retrieve gold at the games, and the task was not easy.
Before the male Canadian hockey team had even gathered, there was much controversy in Canada about the job Wayne Gretzky was doing assembling the team. Each and every inclusion was critiqued and second-guessed. The Canadian media had a field day lambasting Gretzky’s attempt to assemble a winner, and when Canada dropped the first game to Sweden in an embarrassing 5 - 2 loss, the international press jumped on the “trash Canada” train.
When Canadians play hockey, the world hopes we lose. We take great pride in our game, and our opponents revel in the opportunity to overthrow the kings of hockey. Throughout history, Canada has produced the world’s best players: but things have changed in the last 10 years, if not earlier. Canada hasn’t won gold at the Olympics for 50 years, and the early signs pointed towards a continuation of this famine.
While the world crapped on Canada and its hockey program, two men stepped up to take the blows and fire back. One, as always, was the controversial Don Cherry.
Don Cherry (man in the funny hat) is the voice of “Coach’s Corner,” a Canadian program that runs in between the periods of Saturday’s national hockey broadcasts. It’s been on air for longer than I’ve been alive, and he knows the game inside-and-out: and above all, he believes Canadians are the best damn hockey players in the world. He’s been pro-Canada to the point that others find him racist towards Europeans: but his heart has always been with his home team, despite the press’s love affair with bashing Canada. He’s the proud man that’s become the father to Canadian hockey fans everywhere; love him or hate him, he’s always there to stand up for us.
Angry speeches of Canadian self-worth are a staple for Cherry, and a television journalist doesn’t lift the burden of a nation. The other man to guard our country’s reputation was, of course, the legend and leader himself, Wayne Gretzky.
When the local and international press was at the height of cruelty, calling the Canadian hockey program complete trash and making a mockery of the team we sent to the Olympics, Gretzky cracked from his usual calm and collective nature and said the truth. Gretzky shot off on a rant, uttering the words that needed to be said, and more importantly to our team, needed to be heard.
"Everybody loves to see us lose. It's a big story… nobody wants us to win but our players and our loyal fans,” Gretzky said. He went on to say how the media coverage had made him absolutely sick, and he wouldn’t put up with it anymore. Gretzky’s ranting speech put Canada in a “us-against-the-world” mentality, and everybody bought it. After all, if we didn’t win the gold, then we were the true losers of the games. It’s gold, or it’s nothing.
From the fervent words of Gretzky, a passion formed. The team formed. The drive to gold formed. The Canadian team improved game after game, always looking far superior to their previous outings. The weak Canadian team that started these Olympics had turned it all around, and began playing the way we knew they could.
When the elimination round began, Canada was finally firing on all cylinders. The first game was against a chippy Finnish team that was incredibly outplayed but backed by ridiculously fantastic goaltending. Despite Canada’s dominance in play, the score remained close and Canada snuck through with a 2-1 decision. Heads were cracked open, but the movement for gold stayed intact.
Sweden’s surprising upset loss to Belarus gave Canada a chance to really break out offensively. Canada walked all over a feeble and tired Belarus team to the tune of 7-1. The slumping Canadian players’ netted goals, the defense tightened its coverage, and the goaltending was barely tested in a show of Canadian’s expanding abilities. This Canadian team was primed and ready for the gold medal game, which would be played against the Olympic hosts, team USA.
America’s hockey team had the heart of its nation, the odds of the gamblers, and the statistics to back it all up. Undefeated in this Olympic tournament. Most goals of any team. Allowed only 5 goals in last 5 games. Best power play. Hottest goaltender. Coached by Herb Brooks, who lead the 1980 US men’s team to its last Olympic gold. US had never lost with Herb Brooks on the bench. US had not lost a home-ice Olympic game in over 70 years.
But the American men’s team failed to learn from their women’s team: don’t piss us off. The day before the big game, Herb Brooks said, “Canada plays stupid hockey.” As if we needed another reason to kick America’s ass. Fuel on the fire, baby; fuel on the open fucking fire.
Canada took those great American numbers and flushed them down the crapper. Canada dominated the first period of play, leaving it with a 2-1 lead. While the shots on goal were close, it was no indication of play: most of the US shots were mustered up on the two power plays, and the American goal came on an odd-man rush that was against the flow of the play. The war for gold began, and Canada was dictating the pace – America was lucky the score wasn’t 3 or 4 to 1.
The second period was much the same: Canada controlled the game, although the play was more balanced than the first period. US tied the game on a power play shot deflected in by our own defense. Ironically enough, Canada took the lead back while on the power play, as a shot deflected in off an American defender. After 40 minutes, Canada was the better team and leading 3 - 2.
The third period was a tough one for Canadians everywhere: the US team pushed hard and controlled the puck right from the outset. While the US wasn’t getting a lot of shots, they were controlling the pace and flow. However, after the US continually pushed and blew a late power play opportunity, Canada’s Jarome Iginla wired a shot that trickled through American goaltender Mike Richter, giving Canada a 4 – 2 cushion and me a sore tail-bone: I exploded with such excitement and relief on the goal that I fell backwards off of my chair to the floor behind me.
It didn’t matter that I looked like an idiot: we were going to win the gold.
Moments later, Canada sealed the American’s fate with Joe Sakic’s breakaway goal, his second marker and fourth point of the game. From there, the clock ticked down on the American hockey dream, and the 50 years of Canada’s gold drought was ended. Ninety countries around the world watched on, as the team everybody loves to see lose ended up on top.
The streets of Canada were deserted for the course of the three hour epic game, as Canadians cringed in desperate hope around television sets. As the clock wound down, the towns across the country erupted in joy. This was the largest viewed event in Canadian history, and our prayers came true. Walking the streets, you’d see people everywhere waving flags, cheering, and celebrating. Boys ran around the streets topless in the near-freezing temperatures, using red-and-white body paint instead of jackets to show their pride. Truck drivers honked in relief, for to see the pedestrians party insured that Canada pulled through while they bounced along the bumpy roads of our great nation. Men everywhere wept: it wasn’t just a game, but a story that would become a legacy and part of our heritage, to be passed throughout our generations along with our blood. A faith has been revived, and we bask in the glory of victory.
I can’t stop smiling for the life of me.