It isn’t often that an entire nation is unified in their reaction to an instantaneous moment in time. Where for a distance of five thousand kilometres the behavior of so many is identical. Set aside war or disaster and it’s hard to think of an event where an eighth the circumference of the globe is unified in celebration to such a stunning degree. Longitudinally speaking, this is a rare happening for the planet Earth in general. Within such far-reaching borders, millions upon millions of citizens are doing the exact same thing, at the exact same time, and behaving in the exact same manner. What’s more is that expatriates around the globe are joining in on the celebration from even further away. This doesn’t happen very often. But exactly one year ago it happened in Canada. The Kid shouted “Iggy!” and that’s all she wrote.
If you were watching the game, then you were watching the game and you know what happened. You’re also probably aware that it had everything a hockey fan could ask for from a championship match: The opportunity for one team to avenge an earlier loss and win Olympic gold on home soil, the potential for another team to play spoiler and upset the home team for a second time, end-to-end action that saw a 2-0 lead erased with 17 seconds left, and bragging rights to be decided in overtime. Who could have envisioned such a high degree of drama? The hockey gods devised a humorously clichéd script that tested the cardiac health of a nation and (1972 notwithstanding) delivered a game that gave Canadian hockey fans an unrivaled moment of outright pride, stunning imagery, and cultural unity.
I found myself fortunate enough to be living in Vancouver during the games and, since I didn’t have sixteen grand for a ticket, chose to meet up with some friends and watch the game at a local pub. We decided on the Wolf & Hound, a local favorite for the art of watching hockey, as it had a back room with leather couches and a big screen. We lined up at nine in the morning, and within an hour there was a red and white queue around the block. As soon as the doors opened we successfully rushed in to grab the best seats in the house – front and centre, facing the big screen, and sitting on the leather sofa. We set ourselves up to watch in style. With some breakfast burgers and a few pitchers to get us through the pregame, we were right where we wanted to be.
Not surprisingly, this went on in each and every city throughout Canada. If you didn’t go to the pub, you likely watched from home, or got together with friends. The estimates place around 80% of Canadians watching the game that day. Eighty percent! That is a ridiculous figure. Needless to say, it was the most watched event on Canadian TV. Ever.
Looking back, it’s difficult to explain what exactly happened to the country after that goal was scored. It seemed to act as a synchronized adrenaline shot to the hearts of the more than 20 million watching. That thing that makes a lot of us feel Canadian – hockey and our connection to it – was nearly wiped out for a few years. Instead, we cemented a maple leaf on the game, and this identity was fortified in a manner not seen in close to forty years. But we cut it close this time.
Can you imagine what would have happened if we had lost? If Miller hadn’t gone for the poke check, or if Langenbrunner had rushed back up ice and put one under the crossbar? To even think in such a manner would be uncanny. It’s unfathomable, it’s absurd, it’s…unfathomably absurd! Yet, as grand as the celebration turned out to be, the low and lull of a loss to the US would have been catastrophic to that collective identity. But that’s our thing! You can’t take it US! You always take everything! Can you imagine? That goal acted as a simultaneous exhalation for a nation that had been holding it’s breath for more than two weeks. Though difficult to admit to its fragility, a significant portion of our identity as a nation was saved by that goal.
Every Canadian has their war story for this game. Where they were, who they were with, how and where they celebrated afterwards. In fact, if you ever meet another Canadian, anywhere on this planet, it’s quite likely that you can break the ice by saying something along the lines of: “Hey, tell me, where were you when Sid scored that goal in the Olympics?” There you go, new friend. If they respond with something like: “Pssssshhh – that shit was so conformist and lame” it also acts as a pleasant red flag to indicate that you probably don’t want to hang out with this person anyway. If you didn’t want to watch, that was your choice. But this is what everyone else around you was doing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1ns63s9i3k. Looks like a once in a lifetime experience, no?
And the post-game celebrations, c’mon! I haven’t seen the streets of Vancouver come close to anything like that. It was incredible, it was brilliant, it was a type of celebration that had been previously unseen. Who knew we had it in us?
I always found Canadian history to be an odd thing to study in school, specifically the post-WWII era. Relative to our southern neighbours, Canadian history is unavoidably dull. We had no space race, no high-level assassinations, no civil rights movements, no Vietnam, no Watergate, and we didn’t enter into international affairs boastfully. The only items that still resonate in my head from my Canadian history lessons on the 1970s are the FLQ and the Summit Series. That seems to be all we had to fill in the void in our history books.
When I was young, it seemed strange to me that we studied our hockey accomplishments. But we did, complete with the image of Paul Henderson leaping in the air after scoring His Goal. It is funny to think that my kids may end up with a picture of Crosby in their textbooks. It’s not all that unlikely. What else will they learn about – restrained minority governments that did little of significance? Doubt it. How about that time Canada kicked ass at the Olympics. Sounds a lot more likely, doesn’t it? And I get to drop first-hand knowledge and experience bombs on them. Talk about a Canadian hockey history boner.
I’m not sure if there was any actual point to all of this. Nor am I quite sure why it was written. But that’s unimportant and I’ll leave you two final thoughts:
The US has very few non-Lake Placid international ice hockey memories. Because of this, you have to believe that, had they won, their story would have been fast-tracked into a Disney movie so fast it would make your head spin. Just think, we were one goal away from James Franco’s Zach Parise, and Zach Efron as Ryan Miller. In contrast, Canada wins a lot. So much so that it’s actually difficult to keep track of it all, and the likelihood of 2010 being seen on the big screen anytime soon is minimal. Instead, years from now, I see this story surfacing as an under budgeted CBC joint staring Joshua Jackson as Scotty Niedermeyer. Let us all pray that Bieber isn’t inclined to test his acting chops or, sadly, the baby faced Crosby roll is his for the taking.
And, finally, this Olympics gave us an immortal game that I would love to see catch on: Crosby Shots. Not only is Crosby Shots fun to play, but the rules are extraordinarily easy too! Whenever Sidney Crosby is playing for Team Canada and he scores a goal, everyone playing takes a shot. Crosby Shots can be played with friends and family, without having to be in the same city. You simply agree to play before the puck drops. It connects hockey fans regardless of location: A man in Moose Jaw can play with his wife in Afghanistan, his buddy in Whitehorse, and his brother in Trois-Pistoles. It’s easy, effective, and forever honours the Kid. Crosby Shots. Tell your friends.