You’d be forgiven for thinking that Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne are battling it out for #1 on the charts, that George Bush is still president and that Steve Yzerman is an integral part of a winning team. Well, you can scratch the first two points, because in the hockey world the third point carries over to the 2010 Olympics, the virtual mirror image of 2002.
Team Canada once again won gold in both mens and womens competitions, solidifying its status as hockey’s nation supreme. The women’s gold medal game resulted in a 2-0 win for Canada over the United States, crowning them champions for the third Olympics in a row — the first time that has happened for a Canadian team or individual in winter Olympic competition since the mens hockey teams of 1924-1932. The men’s gold medal game, meanwhile, needs virtually no introduction, as Sidney Crosby’s shot heard ’round the world instantaneously created a new Canadian hero in overtime by scoring Canada’s third goal at the expense of the rival Americans’ two.
The Womens Game
The Canadian womens hockey team outscoured their opponents by a total of 48-2, an utterly laughable ratio. As a result of the utter domination by the United States and Canada, the IOC has gone so far as to bring up the notion of removing womens hockey as an Olympic sport in the future. While I find this idea to be completely and utterly mistaken, there are is one things which could be modified to make the women’s game more competitive and exciting to watch.
Eliminating the no hitting rule and bringing any other rulebook anomalies in tune with men’s hockey would do the women’s game the respect it deserves as an equal participant in the world of sports. I could understood such rule changes if men were facing women in direct competition, where physical differences would end any idea of fair opportunity before it got started, but with women facing each other there’s absolutely no need for there to be any rule differences. It’s hockey. They can live with getting hit as well as men can. It’s part of the game.
The Canadian women also notoriously celebrated on the ice once the stadium had cleared out, soaking in the moment with oversized bottles of Canadian and cigars. My initial reaction was that it was a disrespectful thing to do. Any celebrations I can remember in pro sports were all over the place on the field, then took place in the locker rooms and hallways of the bowels of the host stadium, as the losing team quietly slunk out the back. Good times for the crowds, with rowdy times for each other. However, over time I’ve relented somewhat, as the womens celebrations is just one example of a greater spirit of vocal national pride which has emerged from these Games, as Stephen Brunt of the Globe and Mail so eloquently explained in his video essay. Having had some time to think, have another one, ladies. It’s your moment to soak it all in.
The Mens Game
Sidney Crosby — love him or loathe him — can now be safely called one of Canada’s hockey legends alongside names such as Gretzky, Orr, Henderson and Lemieux. At the age of 22. In his own way of asking the twenty-somethings of the world “what are you doing with YOUR lives?”, Crosby etched himself into hockey legend by redeeming an underwhelming tournament with a single shot in overtime of the gold medal, preceded by repeated calls of “Iggy”, which beat the NHL’s best goaltender in Ryan Miller.
There’s not much reaction one can add to the mens side of the Olympic hockey tournament, as it had it all: surprisingly plucky performances from underdogs (Switzerland, Slovakia), a machine-like team-oriented behemoth which cooly proceeded to the final game, only to lose at the death (USA), a seeming powerhouse which ultimately flamed out far sooner than expected (Russia) as well as a tournament full of ups and downs for the eventual fairytale winner, host nation Canada.
Echoes of the past revealed themselves, as names such as Jagr, Forsberg, Vasicek, Bartecko and Palffy skated in front of North American eyes for the first time in years. Jagr even went so far as to contemplate a future return to the NHL, an idea which Forsberg also toyed with before ultimately deciding his knees had had enough NHL abuse.
It was a tournament which reminded us why we love the game, as the top players in the world played their hearts out solely for national pride on an Olympic stage, something which — while technically unconfirmed — is all but certain to repeat itself in four years time in Sochi.
It was also a tournament which, having elevated the emotions of so many hockey fans for two weeks, basking in the glows of national pride and sporting passion, leaves us returning to the realities of the playoff chase for those who support the Capitals and the Blackhawks, and the Devils and the Sharks. For those, I congratulate.
And for others, the haunting spectre returns of watching the Leafs and the Hurricanes, and the Oilers and the Blue Jackets. For those, I commiserate.
The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver showed us how hockey’s meant to be played, and it ended far too soon.
Maybe that’s what made it so special.