What do I, and I’m sure many others, love about the Olympic hockey that we witnessed over the last two weeks? Not only were we treated to probably the most well-played hockey on the planet, but we were also treated to emotionally-charged games. When a contest is so good that it can evoke so many different emotions from within, that’s when you know you’re watching something special, and it makes being a fan of hockey that much better. Many times I went through this emotional entanglement while watching the hockey in Sochi, especially when Canada played, though it was at its peak through the final weekend of play.
After the emotional roller-coaster that was the Canada/USA women’s final on Thursday, the first men’s semis match did garner an emotion from yours truly: boredom. In the contest between Sweden and Finland, it was a battle of the typical, ultra-conservative defense we have seen from many European teams in Sochi, with Sweden capitalizing on two chances to edge Finland 2-1. Even though staring goalie Tuukka Rask was unable to play, Finnish backup Kari Lehtonen, played a superb game, and it was actually the Swede’s Henrik Lundqvist who allowed the only soft goal. It may have been a snooze-fest for someone who had no real vested interest in this game, though I’m sure many Scandinavians were on the edge of their seats for this one.
On the other hand, many of my friends gathered at the Konarowski Centre for Hockey, a.k.a. my basement, to watch the much anticipated Canada/USA matchup. The consensus feeling in the room was one of fear, fear in the fact that I’m unsure any of us were really confident in a Canadian win. Though Canada dominated the majority of the game, especially with puck possession in the corners of the American zone, creating many scoring chances in the process, the room was filled with tension. Jamie Benn’s goal brought temporary relief to that tension, though the air was soon filled with an uneasy atmosphere soon after. It may be stressful to witness, but I will choose to view a tight, close game over a blowout any day. The emotional high that accompanies your teams win makes being a fan even better, a feeling I, my friends, and thousands of Canadians must have felt after Friday’s win. I should also note that I need someone to slap some sense into me, as I never should have doubted a win for Canada.
At the beginning of the game between the USA and Finland, the primary feeling I felt was one of disappointment. Neither squad appeared to have their heart in this one at the beginning, and understandably so, having both been a single goal away from a shot at gold. The first period was dull, yet the Finns found life in the second. Two quick goals from Teemu Selanne and Olli Jokinen gave them a 2-0 lead, and they never looked back. That sense of disappointment turned into one of happiness. Happy for the fact that Selanne capped off his final Olympics by giving it his all, scoring two goals in a 5-0 Finland rout, giving ‘The Finnish Flash’ a fourth Olympic medal, and that his teammates relished this triumph over the U.S. American goalie Jonathan Quick was not pleased with the U.S. performance, referring to this game by stating, “There is no reason we show up and not piss a drop. My job is to stop the puck, and I did not do that very well.” Phil Kessel may have been the tournament’s leading goal scorer, but he and the USA will come home empty-handed.
Thousands across Canada woke up for the 7am EST start for the final matchup vs. Sweden, packing bars, atrium’s, and other large gathering places in the hopes of celebrating yet another Gold Medal win. Not only was I tired, but also confused after I found out that Sweden’s Nicklas Backstrom would be missing the game with a “migraine,” though it turned out he actually took a banned substance (Claritin). This game was nowhere near as tense as Friday’s battle with the U.S., though there was certainly no guarantee of a Canadian win. Though I found myself encountering bouts of hilarity (thanks to Don Cherry and Ron McLean’s discussion about Alex Pietrangelo), anxious times (just before Sidney Crosby scored, you knew a goal was coming, and I was anxious to see it happen), and after Chris Kunitz iced the game with a bar-down wrist shot that beat Lundqvist, it was the ultimate sense of relief. After all the talk about who should be on Team Canada, who was snubbed, who would score, or who would start in net, the roller-coaster was coming to an end with yet another Gold Medal for Canada.
Throughout the games, we have heard rumblings that NHL players will not be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics. I sincerely hope those rumblings are are false. As always, this tournament not only provided us with some top quality hockey, but also provided the fans with that aforementioned roller-coaster of emotions that make hockey and sport so enjoyable. The games have made us cheer with joy when our respective nations win, or have made use cry due to a crushing defeat, but most of all, they bonded together hockey fans across all nations. I beg of you NHL, please let the players play again in 2018. It was a hell of a ride this year, and I’m sure it will be again in four years time.
Here are my predictions from a little over two weeks ago, compared with the final results:
(Result) Gold: Canada/(Prediction) Canada
(R) Silver: Sweden/(P) Sweden
(R) Bronze: Finland/(P) USA
(R) 4th: USA/(P) Russia
(R) 5th: Russia/(P) Finland
(R) 6th: Czech Republic/(P) Switzerland
(R) 7th: Slovenia/(P) Czech Republic
(R) 8th: Latvia/(P) Slovakia
(R) 9th: Switzerland/(P) Latvia
(R) 10th: Austria/(P) Norway
(R) 11th: Slovakia/(P) Austria
(R) 12th: Norway/(P) Slovenia
(Photo Credits to: slam.canoe.ca, ctvnews.ca, canada.com)