The Canadian Gold Rush
It turned out to be a golden anniversary for Canada. Fifty years to the day after the Edmonton Mercurys won Canada's last Olympic gold medal in men's hockey, Canada defeated the United States 5-2 in the last event of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games on Sunday afternoon in a history-making victory.
"All of Canada is cheering at this moment," Prime Minister Jean Chretien told Team Canada's executive director Wayne Gretzky in a telephone call broadcast on CBC. "I'm proud of this group," Gretzky told CBC. "They deserve all the accolades. It's nice to bring gold home to Canada."
Burnaby, BC native Joe Sakic was named the game's first star, as selected by CBC's Labatt 3-Stars Online Poll, with goaltender Martin Brodeur and Iginla second and third, respectively.
Not a bad 10 months for Sakic, who was also named the MVP of the Olympic tournament: he also won the NHL's scoring title, the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, the Lady Byng Trophy as the league's most gentlemanly player and the Stanley Cup since last April.
As an entire nation of people glued to their TV screens, or bolted fast to their barstools expected, the game was an intense, NHL-flavoured affair, marked by tight checking, gritty defensive play in front of their net, and clutch goaltending.
But even if this was the most over-analyzed and widely hyped games in hockey history, few would have expected the game to unfold as it did. It was a near reversal of the U.S. - Russia semifinal, in which the Americans had only goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin for opposition through the first two periods before the Russians awakened and nearly stole the game in the third period.
The gold-medal game was closer after two periods, with Canada carrying a 3-2 lead into the final period, but the Canadian side dominated the play in the first two frames against a relatively passive American team that waited for opportunities for odd-man rushes.
It was a very different American team that came out for the third period. Unaccustomed to playing from behind after going undefeated through their first five games of the Olympic tournament, the U.S. played vintage desperation hockey in the third period, while Canada played cautiously, letting the Americans come at them.
But Canada got a full effort from its forwards on the back check. The Canadian shooters sprawled in front of passes and shots, while a big, strong defence cleared the net, and most rebounds, from in front of Brodeur, who had another strong game in the Canadian net.
Of course, the Canadians also had a way of making things harder on themselves than they had to throughout the period. Maybe it was a week-plus of watching slick European teams, but the Canadians were continually trying to be too fine with passes in their own end instead of just clearing the zone under pressure, or making bad drop passes with no trailer positioned to pick up the pass.
Canada forced the issue for much of the game with fierce forechecking and a fast-paced transition game, while the U.S. looked tentative, opting to dump-and-chase for much of the period, despite coach Herb Brooks' comments deriding Team Canada's reliance on the uncreative offensive tactic.
In the end our style of playing our game, and a couple of insurance goals by Iginla and "Burnaby Joe" dashed all hopes of those living in the "land of free and home of the brave" of striking gold in Utah.
The greater reward for me was not the gold medal, as thrilling as it is, but the fact that had the Americans won we would have had to endure their constant bragging over this win for the next 20 years. If you don't believe this last statement just look to the opening ceremony when the entire 1980 Team USA men's gold medal winning hockey team lit the torch.
A fitting ending to a game that is distinctively ours. A true Canadian has ice in their veins and red and white blood cells. Congratulations to the men and ladies of Canada's Olympic hockey teams. Oh Canada!