By Rob Ficiur
Twice in one week Canada stood still, waiting, hoping, fearing and then cheering a Gold Medal in Olympic hockey. The early early Sunday morning game, got a an average rating of 8.5 million. Though that is half of the 2010 Gold Medal game rating, during the final hour of the Gold Medal performance, ratings indicates that 90% of Canadian TVs were watching the big game.
Has anyone told Canadian sports fans that we came out of Sochi with one less medal (24) than we did in 2010? Has anyone told the rejoicing fans that Canada had four fewer Gold medals in 2014 than we did four years ago? Maybe. However, Canadians care more about the two hockey medals than any others sports (sorry curling fans). Our two Hockey Gold Medals came in dramatically different ways.
Canadian Women win their fourth Gold Medal in a row…the hard way.
In my 2014 yearly predictions, I predicted that the Canadian Women would not win Gold in Sochi. The team had just fired their coach and hired former Florida Panther head coach Kevin Dineen. Was two months enough for a team to come together? Since the Americans beat Canada four games in a row in December in a pre-Olympic tournament, things looked bad for our women’s team.
I was in class when I heard that the Canadian Women won the Gold Medal in overtime. “Nice,” I thought. “It must have been a good close game.” Only as I drove home did I hear about the dramatic come back. Down 2-0 with less than three minutes to go – somehow Canada came back and won.
Thursday night several sports channels replayed the entire game. By this time I knew the score, and I knew when Canada would score their goals. Knowing all the facts did not take away from the drama of the game.
With five minutes left, and Canada down 2-0, I kept encouraging (yelling at the TV) for the Canadians to get some shots on net. How can they possibly win the game, when the Americans were getting more chances to score than Canada? [What kind of person yells at a re-run of a hockey game?] Anyone who thinks that the Americans were coasting to the end did not watch the game. The USA had more scoring chances in the last ten minutes than Canada.
Even though I knew who was going to win, I felt compelled to urge the team on. “You will have to try harder than that to win this time as well,” I told the re-run episode.
The overtime was as exciting as any ever witnessed. In the first minute of overtime, the Americans got seven quality shots at the Canadian goal. Two minutes later Canadian took a two minute cross checking penalty. Yes, she was defending her goalie, but yes it was a penalty. With a 4 on 3 power play, things looked good for the USA. Seconds into the US power play the Americans got a slashing penalty. That was a penalty? After seeing it twice, it still looked like all the US was doing was trying to get the puck lose. Two or three whacks is not usually a penalty. I was watching a replay of the game, so I knew that my opinion was not going to change anything.
When Canada scored the winning goal, I felt bad for the Americans. (Not bad enough to cheer for them.) They were so close. The 2014 Women’s Gold Medal Comeback will be remembered for decades.
The Canadian Men won the hockey Gold Medal with a 3-0 win over Sweden. Unlike 2010, there was no overtime Golden Goal. Instead Canada dominated Sweden defensively though the game. Team Canada set a record that will never be broken, letting up three goals in the entire six game tournament.
Somehow Coach Mike Babcock convinced scoring superstars to play defense. The result was near total domination. Canada never trailed during any game of the tournament. Their tight defensive system lead to the goals they needed. (Example, Goal #2 in Golden Game when Sidney Crosby created a breakaway goal through his defensive work at his own blue line.) With Canada up 2-0 in the third period, you would think that Sweden would be pressing for a goal to get them in the game. No. By the 10:00 mark of the third period, Sweden had only one shot on goal, because of Canada’s tight defensive system.
Conclusion: Canada has won three of the last four Olympic Gold Medals in Men’s hockey. Since 1976, Canada has won seven of the eleven best on best tournaments (Canada Cup, World Cup of Hockey and Olympics). How good have Canadian teams been? In the eleven best on best tournaments, no country has won more than one time except Canada. The Soviet Union won its only Canada Cup in 1980, more than 30 years ago. Americans speak about the Miracle on Ice, but in best on Best Tournaments, they have only won once.
Canadian hockey fans can and will celebrate for the next four years. Canada has proven (again) it is the top hockey country in the world. Period.