Well, I’m about 10 years older than I was when I arrived at Canada Hockey Place this morning, right before the men’s gold-medal hockey game between arch-rivals Canada and the United States. But it was all utterly worth it.
Just as in their game two days ago against Slovakia, the Canadians came within a skate’s edge of blowing their shot at this highest-profile medal in the Winter Games. When the ever-dangerous American forward Zach Parise scored to tie the game 2-2 with only 24 seconds left—time that would have easily been eaten up by a single, measly puck clearance from the Team Canada zone—I’d just finished making a note about how a small group of Canadian fans to my right was being unwise for trying to start up a chorus of the “Hey, hey, goodbye” song.
But it was Sidney Crosby who lifted his team to victory, rifling the puck past tournament MVP Ryan Miller, just under eight minutes into overtime. And the Canadian fans who’d looked nothing short of shell-shocked as they wandered the concourse during the intermission before the extra frame made a sound I’ll likely never hear again.
I’ve written a lot over the last two weeks about raucous grandstands and huge collective voices. I realize now that the loudest of them, even here at Canada Hockey Place on previous days, was only about half the possible volume. What erupted at the instant of Crosby’s goal was unearthly, almost disorienting. The structure around us seemed to quake. And the blast came from everywhere at once, even from the rows just behind me where such bigwigs as Donald Sutherland, Wayne Gretzky, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper were sitting.
Could you script a finale to the Vancouver Olympics with more heart-damaging drama? The U.S. came into today’s game with a shot at becoming the first team to make it through the Olympics undefeated since the tournament switched to the current playoff-style format in 1992.
Canada came in with a chance to become the first host country to win men’s hockey gold since the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team in Lake Placid, New York. And it had lost only once—to these same Americans.
The game itself unfolded as a battle that was excruciatingly tight at times, with constant micro-shifts in momentum. As I flip through the pages of notes I scribbled while looking on, I notice several about how cold Crosby looked during stretches of regulation time—unable to find his linemates Jarome Iginla and Eric Staal, and even pushing the puck too far ahead of himself on a breakaway just moments before Parise’s tying goal.
Sid the Kid had been far too quiet for far too long in this tournament. But he picked the right time to re-emerge and justify those hundreds upon hundreds of number-87 jerseys being worn in this ecstatic, thundering crowd.
Photo gallery: Men's ice hockey gold medal game, Canada vs. USA.