February 10, 2010
2002 Olympics - Salt Lake City, Utah
The 2002 Olympics hockey tournament will be forever remembered as Canada's double golden moment in history. Both the men's and women's teams won gold, both at the expense of the host Americans. For the women it was Canada's first Olympic gold ever. For the men the victory ended an unthinkable 50 year golden drought.
Not that it was necessarily easy. The men's team struggled out of the gate, not catching the elusive chemistry needed early in these short tournaments. They lost their first game badly, 5-2, to a very impressive Swedish team. Then the Canadians barely knocked off lowly Germany and could only muster a tie against the Czechs. Canada was playing so uninspired that team director Wayne Gretzky tried alleviating the pressure by taking center stage with his now famous speech to the media.
That seemed to spark the hockey gods as Canada's luck changed, garnering a huge favor from the unlikeliest of places. As the medal round opened, the high flying Swedes, by now the gold medal favorites in many people's minds, fell victim to one of the greatest upsets in Olympic hockey history. In what has since been dubbed "the Belarus Miracle," Vladimir Kopat's shot from center ice off of Tommy Salo's shoulder late in the game eliminated Sweden from the tournament.
The result was so unlikely that the Belorussians already had airplanes booked to go home, but now they had advanced to the medal round. Canada, who escaped the opening of the medal round with a 2-1 win over the pesky Finns, were the biggest benefactors, as they faced Belarus next. There would be no repeat miracle, as Canada pounced early and often en route to a 7-1 win, advancing to the gold medal game!
Canada would meet the host Americans, now Canada's biggest rival, in the final game. It was an epic game, with Canada easily playing their best game of the tournament, winning 5-2. Many memorable moments occurred in this game, from Mario Lemieux's famous non-play to his inexplicable shot off the post, from Theoren Fleury's amazing rush to Martin Brodeur's unbelievable goaltending, and from the game of a life time from Joe Sakic to a little bit of luck from loonie buried at center ice, Canada was finally the Olympic champion again.
The women's team rolled through the round robin and medal round to meet their arch rivals from USA in the gold medal game. Team USA had beaten Canada in the last 8 consecutive games they played. Canada would have to overcome some terrible refereeing, but would win the game 3-2, thanks to a memorable goal from Jayna Hefford.
The win actually happened before the men's gold medal game. Every player on the men's team will tell you what an important emotional lift it was to watch the women win the gold medal.