Within every cold Canadian community, you’ll 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. When the greats lace up their boots and dazzle the masses, their glory echoes in renactment across all of our ice surfaces. No 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 - perhaps even the finest game - ever 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 wasn’t able to watch the game at the time; a funeral, of all things. I’m a hockey fan. I’ve seen the highlights. I’ve watched the snippets. I’ve seen the goal over and over. But I hadn’t 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!
The Prime Minister even appeared human alongside the greatest player of all time, Wayne Gretzky.
The atmosphere was explosive. Hockey has a high barrier for entry. It’s expensive to play. It requires a cold climate or a fancy facility. The gold medal game, scheduled right before the closing ceremonies, gave Canada the opportuntiy to put its greatest passion on display for all nations to see. The two teams, the two warring nations, did not disappoint.
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 wouldn’t make in the NHL of today.
The silky smooth boots of Scott Neidermeyer or the assertive composure of the nasty Chris Pronger would be too slow for the modern era. There’s no time for grace or brutishness. It’s a competitive sport that moves at blazing speed. And it’s a 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 up. 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’s 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 isn’t sponsored by monolithic telecommunications companies or skeezy Albertan oil firms. It’s 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 sing crisp. The Canadian collective blasts through your speakers each time a goal is scored. The athletes aren’t getting paid. It’s a bunch 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’s pure battle. It’s a war out there. I’ve played competitive hockey. You know what’s 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’s blurring because he’s 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’s going to get pancaked. It’s 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’re going to take punishment. You need to sacrifice your body. Over, and over again.
If you’re fearless and in the right spot, the doors of fate may open just a crack. You’ll see a glimmer of daylight bleed through. 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 in sports to win. He’s won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, has won gold for Canada at the U-17s, 2006 and 2007 World Junior Champships, 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. It’s leaders versus leaders; when 22 of you come together with a common goal, your pasts don’t matter. Your ego doesn’t matter. The team matters. You come together as a group and play the role 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. Don’t normally block shots, eh? You’ll be putting 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 don’t, 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 you’re mistake free, the puck might still wind up in the back of your 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 no longer matters. It’s your chance at glory. We’re headed 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. It’s a goal; it’s the golden goal!
But it wasn’t just Crosby that scored it. It was each and every one of us.
And we lost our collective shit.