Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Golden Goal

Well, here I am up early again. Got to bed at 9 because I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, but up again at 5:30. It’s not such a bad thing, actually. I don’t mind starting my day gradually. It increases the chances of me boarding the bus for the morning commute with a smile on my face.

It also gave me a chance to download and watch highlights of Canada’s gold medal game from itunes. Watching those moments again was a great way to get my heart started in the early AM.

As I mentioned to others before, I ended-up watching the gold medal game here in Korea – alone. It wasn’t so bad. I’m sure there may have been a bar somewhere in Seoul playing it live, but I wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything. Some of my most intense hockey-watching moments have been while I was alone, or unable to watch in a traditional way. Sometimes it’s been on the winning side (Gelinas’ game 7 winner over Vancouver in 2004 while I was in the counting-room volunteering for a casino. I heard the crowd roar), and sometimes it’s been on the losing end (staring blankly at the TV as some Russian Maple Leaf ended the Red Wings’ playoff run in 1993).

Anyway, this was awesome. I sat wearing my Team Canada Yzerman jersey with my HBC Team Canada scarf around my neck. I sat there from 5:00 AM until shortly after 8 when Crosby scored – pretty much unable to move. Each goal: first Toews, then Perry, brought a shortened yell from me – I’m sure that I woke some neighbours. USA’s first deflected goal was a bad omen, but worse was when we hit the post twice and then Crosby didn’t convert on the break-away in the 3rd. When Parise scored to tie it up, I was prepared for the worst.

One of my favourite chapters in any book I have read is in Alex Garland’s “The Beach” when he talks about how people react at the moment of death. He compares it to how video game players respond when their on-screen character dies (using Street Fighter characters as a direct example). It’s pretty revealing stuff. Some people throw their controller across the room, others swear, others just take it.

Watching hockey, I guess I’m one of those “just take it” guys. Watching time run out on the Flames in 2004, or even watching the Krushelniski shot sail over Vernon’s glove in the first round in 1990, I just kind of sit there, staring. That’s how it was with Parise’s goal. There’s no use getting angry. It’s done. I’m disappointed. It feels like a death – albeit a temporary one.

Truly, I expected the US to win at that point. Neidermeyer’s give-away to Pavelski in overtime was going to be it for me. How sad that would have been to have had the captain cough it up at that moment. I keep imagining the ways in which it could have gone. Had we lost – all of the questions: Why didn’t we play Fleury (the winningest big game goalie in the last two years) in net when it was clear that Luongo was shakey? Why did Crosby fade down the stretch? Why did Yzerman go with Pronger when it was clear that someone with Green’s offensive abilities would have helped? Thankfully, it ended a different way.

The thing is, I just didn’t expect it to. I was watching along with all of Calgary, and apparently all of Canada, in game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2004, when the Flames were expected to win the cup here in Calgary. I had friends fly to the game from Toronto to see it, only to be disappointed by St. Louis’ goal in double overtime. All that expectation. All of that party just waiting to explode. Never happened. Looking back to a couple of nights ago, I can’t imagine the pall of sadness had the US won. Vancouver might have gone dark. I know I’m not exaggerating. This was the last event after an excellent week for the Canadian team, but had we lost the gold in Men’s hockey, well, not only would we have been reading about it for weeks on end, people would have been deflated. The city was noticeably deadened after the loss to the US in the preliminaries. Just imagine if they had lost in the final game.

It’s a funny thing what sport does to us. I wasn’t in Vancouver for the games, but I watched the majority of them from home with my family. We cheered for sports we don’t normally know or give a shit about, and in some ways, it does bring the country together. It also has the opportunity to bring different countries together. I loved the chanting for “U-S-A!” by Canadian fans and US fans alike after both gold medal games. I loved the show of support for the Georgian team, or what was left of it after the tragedy, and I loved watching those in or outside of the winner’s circle embrace each other in support after many events. It sounds like Vancouver had a spirit similar to Calgary in ’88, only on a much larger scale. Today’s media makes things so much more readily available.

I know it’s just sport, but the “spirit” of the games, the collective feeling of people in or focused on Vancouver made me all proud to be Canadian. I had absolutely no shame when, after the game ended, I donned my jersey over my jacket, put on my scarf and Mukmuk hat, and then met my friends in downtown Seoul. I had a few people smiling at me – likely thinking I was a huge tool, but some gave me a smile that seemed to say that they knew Canada had done well. The guy behind the counter at my Family Mart said “Canada, number 3, Korea number 5. Today, Canada number 1!” On the subway, a shy group of students wanted their photo taken with me and we had a chat about Kim Yu-na, Korea’s gold medal figure skater, and her Canadian “Orser coach.” I know that there will likely never be another time for me to wear such obvious symbols of National pride in another country, so I enjoyed it for all it was worth. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be at the game, and then to spill onto the streets in Vancouver.

Watching the Olympics – mostly with family – was honestly one of the highlights of my trip home. I’ve always been interested in watching them more than the summer games. It must be due to where I was born. Canada certainly has more investment in the games, and the addition of NHL players in 1998 certainly helped me become more interested. There’s something really comfortable to me about being able to sit in a cozy house with family, this time even with a fire going and a sweet puppy by my feet, and watch Brian Williams cover the Olympics. Like most, I was questioning the point of the games after the Georgian luger crashed, and like most, I eventually got t the point where I was glad the games went on. I know it’s a more complex issue than that, but it’s funny how quickly I can have such a strong opinion on something I know very little about, yet feel deeply as anyone. I was for cancelling the sliding events all-together. But, there’s more to it than that.
I also took issue with the “Own the Podium” sponsorship. In the end the sponsorship was successful, but the name is a mistake, as was the giving of an actual number for the medal count goal. It just isn’t my style.

Similarly, I know that I reacted strongly to the uneven competition in women’s hockey. I know I’m not completely off-base in feeling that the US and Canada out-scoring their opponents by a ridiculous margin for four Olympics in a row is not good for the sport (IOC President Jacques Rogge expressed similar concerns after the women’s gold medal game), but I also see there’s another side to it. I hope the ladies’ game grows internationally, but I question the effectiveness of such continued lop-sided drubbings in an international competition. Time will tell and all that. Still, it was good to see the Canadian women win gold over their arch-rivals, even if I have much less investment in the event than I do in the men’s game, with all of the players I know and love or hate.

Speaking of which, while I empathize with Ryan Miller (who was a humble class-act throughout the games), it’s tough for me to feel bad for some of the others on the US squad. Canada’s team wasn’t perfect either. I’m sure that Pronger and Heatley to name a few aren’t going to win any personality contests. But, after watching more than a few interviews with Kane, Kesler, and Backes during and after the tournament – talking trash about Canadians on home ice, swearing “revenge”, and giving little to no credit to the Canadian team for winning (an automatic – “they deserve credit for not giving into the pressure” was in order for somebody on the US side), I don’t really feel bad for them at all.

Today I was watching a highlight reel on NHL.com about David Backes, who apparently initiated in-game fights with the elite Canadian talent on nearly every team he faced leading up to the Olympics, including Toews, Perry, and (big mistake) Rick Nash. There was even a fan article entitled “Backes Dismanteling Canadian Team... with his Fists!” I know that competition can breed animosity, but this was just classless, as was Backes’ play against the lesser teams in the preliminaries – boarding guys head-first, leaving his feet, and obvious attempts to injure in games that were already out of reach. Glad to see that Backes’ plan ended up with him snivelling with a Silver medal around his neck. What a joke. I would have liked to have seen him try that shit with Iggy.

Let them swear all the “revenge” they want. Canada wasn’t perfect, but the better and classier team was certainly the victor in this case. Yzerman, Crosby, Iginla and others were the epitome of patience and class. I’m sure they would have been had the result been the other way as well. It’s good to have a new insanely intense rivalry in international hockey again. It was the crowning moment of the Olympics for many, and it says something about the sport bringing Canadians together on a scale seldom seen. I read a very accurate description about the Parise goal – “driving a temporary stake into the hearts of Canadians.” To a sports fan, that’s how it felt. And we’ve been on the other side too. Just an awesome feeling this year. I’m sure it’s a feeling never to be repeated on such a scale of national attention. The US can have its dream team for summer Olympic basketball. We'll take this.

1 comment:

Kid Atomic said...

I've been thinking about the 'spirit' aspect of the Olympics a bit too. Early on there were a lot of protests about how much was being spent on the Olympics, money that could have gone to health care or education or the relief of poverty...and I think the criticisms are fair. But I also think that there's something intangible and irreplaceable that you gain when you host the Olympics.

Incidentally, I am the swearing and occasionally, controller-throwing type...I wonder if that's how I'll go out as well.=)