Within every cold Canadian community, you will find an outdoor rink. It is upon these frigid slabs of ice where The Dream is born. These cold, snowy rinks are our churches. They are our playgrounds. The players and their accomplishments become legend, living forever in time. No one game is more deserving of this immortal treatment than the gold medal game of Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics. It was the finest game of hockey I have ever seen played.
Watch: Canada vs USA: The Finest Game of Hockey Ever Played (1080p)
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Host of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. I was not able to watch the game at the time; a funeral, of all things. I love hockey. I watched the highlights. I watched the snippets. I saw the goal replayed over, over, and over… and over. But I had never seen the game. Today, 8 years later, I watched it from start to finish.
There were Canadians…
Lots and lots of Canadians…
Captain Kirk was there!
And even the Prime Minister appeared human, alongside no other than the greatest player of all time, Wayne Gretzky.
The atmosphere was explosive. The gold medal game, scheduled right before the closing ceremonies, gave Canada the opportunity to put its greatest passion on display for the world to see. The two teams, the classic rivals, the two warring nations, did not disappoint: Canada versus The United States of America.
Watching the game, I reflect upon the state of hockey today. The National Hockey League has become faster, cleaner, and more competitive. There is acute parity; the gap between teams has shrunk due to the salary cap and the globalization of analytics oriented player development. The athletes have never been more fit or more skilled. Some priceless relics from 2010 might not make the NHL of today.
The assertive composure of one very nasty Chris Pronger would be too slow for the modern era. There is little time for brutishness. It is now a competitive sport that moves at blazing speed. And it is becoming a more profitable business.
The modern hockey fan is subject to as much product advertisement and commercial exposure as they are ice hockey. The play-by-play and colour commentary have an awkward signal-to-noise ratio; the game is so fast, they can barely keep pace. Players are forced into cliche interview after cliche interview, beat writers engage in click-bait journalism to fit professional sports into our sub 7 second attention spans. The game is 60 minutes but there are days worth of feeds to fill.
This gold medal game, 8 years later, is presented in its purity. The intermissions have been chopped out. There are no commentators filling ‘dead air’. There are no analysts aligning you to their subjective interpretations. There is no play-by-play painting the game with subtle bias. No one is trying to sell you a truck, entice you with an ice cold beer, or offer to manage your finances. The game is not sponsored by a monolithic telecommunications company or a skeevy oil firm. It is presented to you today, free and pure, thanks to the Internet.
The picture is high definition and unburdened with advertisement. The audio is crisp. You can hear the roar of the chanting crowd. The pucks ping off the posts. The on-ice mics pick up the beautiful bile that the players spew at one another as they lose themselves in the intensity. Shots ring clear, skates cut deep, and passes find the tape. The Canadian collective blasts through your speakers each time a goal is scored. The athletes are not getting paid. It is a team of men, representing their countries, playing a game of hockey.
And they worked their asses off. The players needed to scratch and claw for every inch of ice. It was a master work of structured defensive play, punctuated with explosions of opportunistic offense. It was physical. They punished each other. Every check was finished. Each combatant in that arena needed to ice something when all was said and done.
There were more than a few dust-ups. Competition this intense is bound to boil over. In hockey, there is no focal point. Only the observers get fixated on the puck. The entire shape, 6 players aligning against 6 players, twists and wriggles in cohesive and elegant strategy. While the players play different positions and carry different responsibilities, it is a pure, chaotic battle. It is a war out there. I have played competitive hockey. You know what is a hard lesson to learn?
How to take a hit to make a play. Do you see the bottom-most Canadian player, the fellow in white, the ‘1’ on his jersey just visible? See the Canadian player to his right, ahead a short ways? Do you see that angry blue blurr that’s three feet away? He blurs because he is skating dozens of miles per hour. The moment #11, Patrick Marleau, of the Canadian team sails that dense, black, rubber biscuit off to his buddy to advance the play, he is going to get pancaked. And it is going to hurt.
This happens every time a play is made. If you want to gain ground, if you want to create offense, if you want to provide defense, if you want to win, you are going to take punishment. You need to sacrifice your body. Over, and over again.
If you are fearless and in the right spot, the doors of fate may open just a crack. You may catch a glimmer of daylight behind the hyper-focused, agile goaltender in the opposing net. If you have the composure and the tenacity like Jonathan Toews, captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, you might be able to pop in a goal or two. He scored the first one.
Toews captained the Blackhawks to 3 Stanley Cups, the hardest trophy to win in all of professional sports. He has won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, has won gold for Canada at the U-17s, 2006 and 2007 World Junior Championships, and the 2010 Olympics and the 2014 Olympics. But on this team, everyone is that good. Everyone has a list of accolades so long a paragraph can nary contain them.
To make this team, Toews - like everyone else - needed to leave his ego at home. Each player on both sides is the champion of their respective team. The contest is leaders versus leaders. When 22 leaders come together over a common goal their pasts no longer matter. The team matters. You come together as a group and each person plays the role that the team needs.
Are you normally the guy putting the puck in the net on the powerplay? Well, here you might not be. You might need to kill penalties. Not normally one to block shots, eh? You will put your pretty face in front of everything your opponents direct at your net. If you want to win, you need to buy in. Everyone needs to buy in.
If you do not, the other team will. With :24.4 seconds left in the game, the unthinkable happens. Canada is up 2-1. The USA pulls their goalie, granting them an extra attacker. It’s 6 on 5. There is no room for error. Even if Canada is mistake free, the puck might still wind up in the back of their net. With :24.4 seconds left, Zach Parise makes that happen. Tie game.
Every frozen lake or pond, every iced-over slab of community concrete knows what happens next. The slate is clean. Next goal wins. The previous 60 minutes wiped clean. Two teams, one chance at glory. We head to over time.
A few heart-pounding minutes later, Sidney Crosby, The Next One, captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins gets the puck at the opposing hash marks from retired legend Jerome Iginla. He looks off USA goalie Ryan Miller, snaps his stick, and sends the puck between his legs. Goal! The golden goal!
But it was not just Crosby that scored. It was each and every one of us.
And we lost our collective shit.