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From Abu Dhabi: Canada 8, U.S. 5

February 28th, 2010 · 2 Comments · Abu Dhabi, Vancouver Olympics

Well, that was fun. And a little random.

Thirteen people watching hockey from 12:15 a.m. till about 2:30 a.m., in a city where the only ice in town is in someone’s drink.

The gold-medal game of the Vancouver Olympics. Canada against (pronounced “uh-GAINst”) the U.S., starting at 12:15 p.m. PST.

Not something I normally would bother to stay up for. if I had a TV … but the Canadians were so totally, over-the-top into it, all day, that it seemed as if they were inviting every American at the newspaper to come over to one Canadian’s very nice (and big) apartment near the beach … to watch the hockey game! (One of the Britons in the room said, teasing, I think, “Is this match for some sort of championship?” and I thought a Canadian might slug him.)

So, invite over some Americans so you can gloat over them. Well, OK. Sure. You say there might be beer?

Sure, I’ll go over with a couple other Yanks and “represent”. Fill a quota. Provide the loyal opposition. And watch a  bunch of Canadians go a little bit nuts.

Before the game started, the Canadians were talking tough. Well, for Canadians, anyway. (And they apparently have gotten more assertive of late, right? I read that a time or two out of the Olympics coverage, and tonight I saw it. Assertive Canadians. How about that.) One of them said “the final score will be however many Canadians are here to however many Americans are here.” (At the time it was 6-3; it ended up 8-5. Not a great system, it turned out, though it did get the winner right.)

Another was suggesting, in quite sarcastic tones (Canadians, sarcastic? Who knew?) that of course the Americans had to be favored because they already had beaten Canada (5-3, in pool play, a week before).

When, of course, it was Canada’s NHL All-Star team uh-GAINst our nameless, faceless second-line lads. (Nameless and faceless in the U.S., anyway.) Plus, Canada was playing at home, before an overwhelmingly Canadian crowd that included the Prime Minister and Wayne Gretzky. Or, I should say, Wayne Gretzky and the Prime Minister.

But it was a no-lose proposition for most of the Americans. We lose, who cares? We win, we give the Canadians a very very hard time. (Provided we thought they could take it.)

Three of the five Yanks come from the famous hockey-mad states of California, Florida and Louisiana.”Yeah, shoot a touchdown!”

I follow hockey a little; I’ve covered the Ducks and Kings and hockey at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics, and various other Olympics … but I must concede I had never heard of all but two or three guys on the U.S. team. Jack Johnson, Zach Parise and Brian Rafalski. And we’re done. I had never heard of red-hot goalkeeper Ryan Miller. Not before these Olympics. Hey, he plays in Buffalo!

The Canadians,  meanwhile, were completely into it … as well they ought to be, considering it’s their national sport and all.  They were nervous, amped up,  and ready to start shouting at a big flat-screen TV — in the wee hours of a Sunday morning.

They got superstitious, too. One guy needed to go to the bathroom more often because Canada scored its first goal when he was out of the room. A woman had her laptop in her hands when the Americans scored. “Put the laptop away!” And like that. It was cute.

However, I thought it was strange, just before the game, when we found out that both the referees  and one of the linesmen were … Canadian? What? Can’t we get somebody with a whistle who isn’t from one of the competing countries? “The fix is in,” I shouted. But, really. What were the chances any of those Canadians was going to make a call that would hurt Canada? What’s less than zero?

So, off we go. The Canadians edgy. The Yanks just hanging around, drinking Asahi. Oh, and I forgot to mention clothes. The Americans were wearing … clothes. The Canadians were wearing NHL jerseys, maple-leaf/flag-like T-shirts, a “Roots” sweatshirt, a Canada ski cap … Since when do American lose to Canadians in shlocky patriotic wear?  Well, tonight they did.

Canada scored first. Well, of course. Canada scored second. Canada clearly was the better team. Bigger, deeper, more cohesive and far, far more dangerous with the puck.  Shots-on-goal may have finished almost even, but Canada got good shots on goal. The Yanks mostly flung pucks from just inside the blue line.

The Yanks got one back late in the second period on a fluky goal by someone named Patrick Kessler, and then we just started giving the Canadians a bad time. “Here comes the comeback!” “Didn’t I tell you the 2-0 lead is the hardest to protect?” High fives all around. The Canadians got even more nervous.

Third period. Clock is bleeding down. The U.S. looks hapless. Two minutes left, U.S. coach Ron Wilson pulls the goalie. One of the Canadian says, “we score an empty-netter and it ends 3-1” … and that was what I was thinking, actually. Then Parise scored with 24 seconds left to tie it, and we celebrated like it was 1776 — even though it was about 95 percent for show, to bug the crestfallen Canadians.

(One of the Canucks there — and can we call you Canucks? Is that worse than “Yank”? I don’t think it is, is it? I’ve never really known more than one or two Canadians, and I don’t live near the border. Anyway … one of the Canucks there was a woman who works at the paper who I never, ever would have guessed was a sports fan … let alone a Canadian. I would have bet money she was Englishwoman who hated soccer. Anyway, she may have suffered more than anyone in the room. I thought she might pass out when Parise scored. One of the Yanks took a picture of the Canadians on the couch, including her. Had the U.S. won we would have posted it with this item and labeled the photo “Dejection.”)

One of the Canadians kept shouting, “How did this happen!”

One of the Yanks said,  before overtime began, “If we win this … I’m really worried about the potential for Canadian-on-American violence.” And I said, “What, in Vancouver?” And he said, “No, in this room.”

So, on to sudden-death overtime, and I’m such a hockey fan these days that I forgot that even at the Olympics you play OT with only four skaters per team. Which was a bad break for the Americans considering Canada was so much better, man-for-man, and that dominance is more apparent with fewer guys on the ice.

Did “we” have even one good shot in the OT? I don’t remember one. Never even much of a threat. At all.

Then, 7:40 into OT, Sidney Crosby, the Gretzky of his era, won a battle on the boards to flip the puck to a teammate, then charged straight to the goal and got the puck back and wristed home a shot at a sharp angle that Miller couldn’t get, and it was over. Canada, 3-2.

To give you an idea of the differing levels of expertise among the viewing crowd … the Canadians all had jumped and landed a couple of times before the Americans even realized Crosby had scored. Huh? Is it over? And we didn’t know it was Crosby who scored until they started shouting “Crosby! Sid the Kid!” And such.

Oh, heck, it meant so much to them … may as well let them have the gold. It wasn’t like the Yanks were skating against the Big Red Machine, or something.

One Canadian said, “This is the biggest event in Canadian sports history.” Except he might have left out the word “sports”. And I said, “Wow, that’s kinda sad.”  The really tense fan got on the phone with a relative 7,000 miles away, presumably, back in Canada and said, “We are so great!”

And most of the Americans said, “Huh. So that’s it?” And one Canadian, regaining the sense of perspective that is what we normally expect from Canadians, said, “Hey, we’re the best at the 10th-most-popular-sport in the world!” Which is what I had been thinking, except that I might have said something like 15th or 20th.

Clearly, Canada really, really, really wanted to win the hockey gold. One of them even said that all the other gold medals they won at these Olympics (A winter record 14, one of the more-like-Americans-all-the-time Canadians announced.) would not be remembered if Canada didn’t win the hockey gold. Well, gee, if it’s that important to you, we can tell our 137 hockey fans back home to sit down and be quiet and you can have the gold. Silver isn’t so bad.

As a couple of us Yanks were leaving, our host broke out a bottle of champagne and shook it up and popped the cork and spilled a fair amount of bubbly on a rug while filling the glasses of the celebrating Maple Leafers. OK, then. His wife was asleep (how she managed that, with so much noise in the living room, I have no idea), and I wondered how long it would take her to notice the sticky spot on the rug … But since it happened after winning Olympic gold at home over the Yanks … heck, drench the rug with red wine,  if you want. Set off some firecrackers, too.

The host thanked me for coming, and shook my hand, and I thanked him for letting me come over and said, “Congratulations. Your guys were better.”

So, I didn’t miss the entirety of the Vancouver Olympics. Saw the hockey game live,  and got to see what Canadians look like when they’re so nervous they might puke.


2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ian // Mar 1, 2010 at 10:29 AM

    Did they keep talking about their oh-fense? Or how they would love to be part of that organ-eye-zation?

    Honestly, though, it was an amazing game. Most violent game I’ve seen in years without fighting. God, I love international hockey. Canada were easily the better team (i like using the British plural), but the Yanks played with a typical drive.

    On the note of the trash talking, the Canadian prime minister said, on the day before the Games, that all Canadians needed to cheer their teams on like they never had before, “and we shall apologize for our poor manners afterward.” Love it.

    I plan on having a similar experience when the U.S. plays England on June 12… sitting in an English pub populated by ex-pats. Should be fun… or fatal.

  • 2 JSchultz // Mar 2, 2010 at 7:17 AM

    This is just sad.

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