Sunday, February 23, 2014

Canada wins men's hockey gold to cap off a successful Sochi Olympics

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It was a dominating performance, a 3-0 masterpiece. Sweden got off to a good start, outshooting Canada early on in the first period and generating a few good scoring chances, but after that the outcome was really never in doubt.

Sure, it was tight. The Swedes are good, even without some of their top forwards (Zetterberg, Henrik Sedin, Backstrom). And it's not like the Canadians ran away with it. At any moment a sudden turn of events could have meant Sweden tying it up at one or drawing to within a goal when it was 2-0.

But it really came together for Canada in this one, as if this collection of superstars finally found its identity as a fully cohesive unit, not just the goaltending (Carey Price was excellent again, as he was against the U.S. in the semis) and the defence (outstanding, as always, including on the penalty kill) but the offence as well. It's like the forwards were finally clicking together, like the lines finally made sense, and while it was tight Canada was generating enough offence to score much more than it did. It took some solid Swedish goaltending to complement the typically mistake-free Swedish style of play to keep the game close. And even then, it was abundantly clear throughout which was the better team, and once it was 2-0 it's like the game was out of reach for the Swedes, and they seemed to know it.

The fact is, Canada has an incredible men's hockey team (and of course an incredible women's one as well). Even a second Canada team would be a strong medal contender and might have beaten Sweden today. They had trouble scoring against Finland, Latvia, and the U.S., but it was always just a matter of time before they figured it out, before not even a world-class goalie could stop them. No, this isn't the best hockey team ever assembled or as good a hockey team as you're ever going to see, as some are suggesting. I still think Subban should have been playing, and there are a couple of picks up front I would have changed, but even then I don't think this team matches, say, the '87 Canada Cup team led by Gretzky and Lemieux that beat the Soviets 2-1 in a best-of-three final, each game 6-5, Canada winning the third on a Lemieux goal set up by Gretzky. But who knows? If this team had some more time to gel, if maybe Stamkos were able to play... look, Price and Luongo are great in net, the defence may be as good as a unit as Canada's ever seen, and the offence... well, it's hard to argue with Crosby, Toews, and some of the other finest players of their generation.

Anyway, today the whole country got up early to tune in to what was a brilliant gold-medal-winning effort, and now the whole country is celebrating this great victory. It was difficult to watch Sochi, at times, given what was going on both internally in Russia (Putin's tyranny, with ongoing brutality and oppression of dissidents and those otherwise unwelcome) and next door in the Ukraine (where Putin saw his ally/minion booted from power, but not before many died in protests), and the whole thing dragged on too long for TV purposes, but there were some stellar athletic performances nonetheless and in the end it turned out to be a great Olympics for Canada. Maybe our medal total was a few less than hoped for, but we did well, and of course we won the "double-double" (partly in reference to a popular order at Tim Horton's: coffee with two cream/milk and two sugar), men's and women's golds in both hockey and curling, our two national sports.

Here are some some photos, starting with my favourite single moment of the Sochi Games, Jennifer Jones making her last shot to win the women's curling gold. I just found it intensely emotional. Her team went undefeated, she overcame a lot to get to the Olympics, she's one of the best ever, and the very personal way curling is broadcast meant that her win was a very personal one for many of us.

From the CBC, here's Sidney Crosby celebrating after making it 2-0 in the second period today:

And, from CTV, here's the winning team, gold medals in hand:

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