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In The Crease Tribute to Team Canada

Team Canada Hockey Cards

Thursday 21 February 2002 : Nineteen minutes and fifty nine seconds into the second period of the gold medal game of the women’s ice hockey competition at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic games, Jayna Hefford scored the game and gold winning goal in a hard fought 3-2 Canadian victory over their bitter rivals and neighbours, the USA.

Sunday 24 February 2002 : Eighteen minutes and nineteen seconds into the second period of the gold medal game of the men’s ice hockey competition at the games, Joe Sakic matches this effort and scores the  game and gold winning goal in a 5-2 Canadian victory - again over the USA - and a historic double was achieved!

Both Canadian squads went to the Salt Lake City games with something to prove.  The women had been beaten by the US at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano and lost eight straight to the Americans going into the games (in the women’s tournament, a Canada/US final was pretty much a dead cert!) and the men?  Well, a disappointing fourth place in Nagano after going out at the semi-final stage to the Czech Republic, losing on a shootout, coupled with a fifty year gap since the last Canadian Olympic gold in ‘their game’ should have been enough.  But if you then add in the involvement of the two best hockey players ever in Wayne Gretzky, as Executive Director, and Mario Lemieux, as team captain, to say the expectations of Canadian fans across the world were high for the men’s team would be a huge understatement!

Gold Rush - The Team, The Test, The Triumph
McFarlane Team Canada Hockey Figures

The women’s competition started first on 11 February and Canada kicked off with a round robin game against Kazakhstan and they strolled to a 7-0 victory - outshooting their opponents 66 to 11 in the process - an improvement for the Khazaks who had lost 11-0 to the Canadians at the world championships in 2001!

The next game of interest to the Canadian fans was another women’s game.  This time they were up against the Russians!  Another easy 7-0 victory and one-sided shot count - 60 to 6 in Canada’s favour - saw the women qualify for the medal round after only two of their scheduled three round robin games.

But, before the women would get to play their final round robin game against Sweden there was the small matter of the men’s team opening round robin game against - ironically - Sweden.  Although the round robin in the men’s tournament only served to determine rankings going into the quarter-finals, nobody wanted to get off to a bad start.  And they didn’t - just over two and a half minutes in Rob Blake put Canada ahead and everything looked to be going along nicely.  Then the Swedes took over the game and handed the Canadians a 5-2 loss that was described by forward Paul Kariya as ‘embarrassing’ - nobody was disagreeing!

Team Canada Wallpapers
Team Canada - Home Jersey

The next day, the women were back on the ice for their game against the Swedes and their 11-2 mauling of their opponents - again vastly outshooting them 70 to 22 - was some revenge for the loss handed to the men’s team.  In their three round robin games the women had outscored their opponents 25-0 and unsurprisingly finished atop their group - earning three shutouts along the way for netminders Kim St Pierre (2) and Sammy Jo Small.  Barring

huge upset in either of the semi-finals (Canada v Finland and USA v Sweden), the expected Canada/USA final was on!

The second of the men’s round robin games saw them match up against Germany who had qualified from the preliminary rounds to earn their place amongst the big names!  Everyone expected an easy win for Canada.  What

Team Canda - Road Jersey
Team Canada - Heritage Jersey

they got was a nervous showing from the men was a nervous 3-2 victory and following his absence from the game with a nagging hip injury, speculation that Mario Lemieux had returned home to Pittsburgh and would play no further part in Team Canada’s push for gold.  Luckily, those rumours were just that and Lemieux would be back in the line-up for the final round robin game against the Czech Republic and a certain ex protege - Jaromir Jagr.

The return match against the Czechs, who eliminated Canada in 1998 that was the next Canadian game with the women’s semi-final game due to follow the next day.  The slight improvement in play that had been shown against Germany continued into this match with team captain Lemieux leading by example and netting two goals in a 3-3 tie.  Martin Brodeur, who had replaced Curtis Joseph in goal after the Sweden match continued to impress.

Team Canada - Fan Jersey
Ed Belfour's Team Canada Olympic Mask

The game ended on a sour note though with Czech defenseman Roman Hamrlik first spearing Ryan Smyth and then delivering a vicious cross-check from behind to Theoren Fleury.  Although neither were seriously hurt, the incidents stirred something in Wayne Gretzky - at his after match press conference the Great One defended his team and claimed that almost everyone wanted to see the Canadian’s fail and called for Hamrlik to be suspended for the remainder of the games for his ‘cowardly’  actions in the game.  He went on to claim a double standard that

if the roles had been reserved the press would have been quizzing him on it but as Canada were the victims nobody mentioned it!  Whether the outburst was an intentional attempt to motivate his team using a siege mentality or he was just plain angry only he really knows but it at least took some of the heat and media attention off of his struggling team.

Hot on the heels of the men’s match against the Czechs came the women’s semi-final match against Finland and their first real test of the tournament.  After two periods of the game the Canadians trailed 3-2 - they hadn’t even conceded a goal before this game never mind been down going into the third period - but according to interviews with the players there was never any doubt in their minds they would overcome the one goal deficit and win.  Five unanswered goals in the third saw them come out 7-3 victors and claim their place in the gold medal game.  It was just a case of waiting to see who would join them from the USA/Sweden semi final to be played later the same day.  Inevitably it was the US.

Before that game would take place there was the little matter of the start of the knock-out phase for the men’s team and a quarter final match against Finland.  This was it - the first game the Canadians had to win to progress - no more safety net of the round robin games, this was do or die.  But, before the match had even begun, the eventual winners were handed what seemed an easy route to the final when hockey minnows Belarus beat the impressive Swedes 4-3 in their quarter final - the winning goal a shot from 80 feet out that hit Swedish goalie Tommy Salo on the shoulder then on the way back down would deflect off his back into the goal! - to set up a semi final match against the winners of the Canada/Finland quarter final.

The Canadians were determined not to disappoint again and miss the golden opportunity Sweden’s misfortune had presented them and after out shooting the Finns 34 to 19, goals from Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic saw them to a 2-1 victory.

Everything seemed to, finally, be going to plan - the men had booked a semi final place against Belarus and the women were about to repeat the gold medal game from Nagano against their bitter rivals the US.

Just ten days after the women had started their competition the highly anticipated gold medal showdown was finally here.  With their male counterparts cheering them on from the sidelines the Canadians got off to a great start with a goal from Caroline Ouellette after one minute and forty five seconds.  The Americans then benefited from what appeared to be one-sided officiating from the referee (a native of New York) getting eight power play chances in a row across the first and second periods.  On one of these chances, the US tied the game through Katie King just under two minutes into the second.

Hayley Wickenheiser - who would later be named tournament MVP - restored the lead four minutes and ten seconds into the second period and Jayna Hefford scored Canada’s third and eventual game/gold winning goal in the last second of the same period.  Karen Bye pulled the US to within one goal with three minutes and thirty three seconds to go to ensure a tense finish.  But there was no way the Canadians were going to slip up - capitalising on the outstanding play of netminder Kim St Pierre and in spite of the earlier doubtful refereeing decisions they held on to claim gold and make up in some way for the disappointment in Nagano in 1998.

The celebrations in the women’s camp were probably still under way when the men took to the ice the next day for their ‘foregone conclusion’ of a semi final against Belarus.  Finally, the Canadian men were able to live up to their pre-tournament billing and coasted to a 7-1 victory to set up a gold medal showdown against the USA.  By doing so, they were now guaranteed a medal but the colour of that medal was the important thing!

Three days after the women had claimed gold and only nine days after the disappointing start against Sweden the Canadians took to the ice for the gold medal game.

It was the US that drew first blood when Tony Amonte fired past Martin Brodeur eight minutes and forty nine seconds into the game on a breakaway.  The Canadians took six minutes to restore parity to the game with a goal from Paul Kariya following a sublime play from team captain Mario Lemieux where he moved as if he were going to take the pass from defenceman Chris Pronger and instead let it slide between his legs to the waiting Kariya who fired past Mike Richter.

Before the end of the first period - one minute and twenty seven seconds before to be precise - Calgary Flames forward Jarome Iginla put the Canadians in front with assists from Joe Sakic and Simon Gagne.  The first period ended with the Canadians one up.

In the second period the teams traded power play goals.  Brian Rafalski scored 15 and a half minutes in to draw the US level again.  Joe Sakic - who would be named tournament MVP after the game - got his second of four points on the night and put Canada ahead for good with a power play marker at eighteen minutes and nineteen seconds gone on the clock - the game/gold winning goal. 

Sakic’s excellent performance continued in the third as he assisted on Iginla’s second goal of the game at 16:01 and scored again himself at 18:40 with Iginla returning the favour along with Steve Yzerman on the assists.

In what was a hugely entertaining game of hockey, showcasing the best of the NHL on the bigger ice surface, the Canadian men’s team joined their female counterparts as gold medal winners and completed a historic double.  Whether the Canadian dollar coin buried at centre ice by Trent Evans - icemaker at the arena where both finals were held  - was the good luck charm it was intended to be didn’t really matter.  Both teams had achieved what they had set out to do.....

Hockey had come home to Canada!

PD - 22/02/03

Anyone familiar with the site will know I am a Mario Lemieux fan so it was only natural that I support Team Canada at the Olympics and this feature is my own personal tribute to the achievements of both the men’s and women’s teams in Salt Lake City.  It has been uploaded this weekend to coincide with the first anniversary of the historic double gold medal.

I would like to acknowledge the following sources that were invaluable in putting this feature together - The Official Team Canada Website, the Sports Illustrated Team Canada Olympic Gold commemorative issue and Canada Gold by The Canadian Press.