February 27, 2010

Golden Rematch

At the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Canada defeated the United States to win their first Olympic gold medal in hockey in 50 years. It ranks in this country as one of the three greatest hockey moments - along with the 1972 Summit Series and the 1987 Canada Cup.

I've been trying to rack my brain to remember my feelings heading into the 2002 gold medal game. Of course much of the tournament we were all up in arms as Canada struggled through the first four games, only to rally behind Wayne Gretzky's rant and catch a break that Tommy Salo could not.

After the coasting through the semi-final against the surprising Belorussians, I recall being quietly confident against the United States, who escaped the Russians in their semi matchup. With Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Martin Brodeur and most importantly as it turned out Joe Sakic, how could we lose? It was our time.

I recall being most concerned about the American goaltender. I had seen all too well what he was capable of, especially in the 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs and in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. He was my biggest concern no doubt.

Fast forward 8 years late and we are eagerly anticipating the rematch. Most of the players have changed, but it does not matter. There are a lot of interesting shades of 2002 - Canada's struggles early in the tournament; Sweden's loss in the quarter-finals; the red hot American goalie, this time named Ryan Miller; and of course the all North American showdown.

Only this time around it was the US who had the easy semi-final, while Canada had the nail-biter. And this time, I'm not confident of Canadian victory at all - even though at the same time I wonder of the 2010 team is actually better than the 2002 team.

There is just something about this American team, with their rediculously hot goaltender, their plucky forwards and their over-achieving defensemen. They are very well coached and have all the confidence in the world. They match up very well with the Canadians.

Perhaps being frustrated and then downright scared by the Slovakians will be the best thing for the Canadians. They looked too relaxed at times against Slovakia, and perhaps now they will return to the urgency that they displayed in a near perfect game against Russia. If they play that way they should be fine.

But these American kids are something else, especially the goalie Miller. They won't just roll over like the Russians did. I get this bad feeling that this might be their time, just like 2002 was our time. Canada probably should win a best of seven series, but anything can happen in a one day showdown.

If Canada is going to win, they will have to play with the same determination and discipline they showed against the Russians. But if Canada is going to win on Sunday they will need to have their best games from Sidney Crosby and Roberto Luongo. It is these two that will take us to the next level. I don't think we've see the best of either yet. Sunday would be a good day to do so.

That's The Ticket

Courtesy of Erle at CanadiensMemorabilia.com, here's what the actual ticket for the gold medal game looked like:

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