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by Anthony Oliva / New Jersey Devils
A Jamie Langenbrunner redirection past Martin Brodeur changed the course of the puck, and the Olympic ice hockey tournament.  Who'd have thunk it?

The crowd for USA vs Canada was everything you could imagine and more.  It was the loudest I've ever heard any arena for any sporting event.  Forty-one seconds into the game, though, it was obvious that the party going on for the past week in downtown Vancouver would not carry over inside Canada Hockey Place. 

In-Arena Pandemoniium
The frustration mounted quickly, only temporarily assuaged when Team Canada tied the game at one, and then later at two.  The spectators were restless, questioning every pass, every line change, every dump in.  And when I say "spectators," i don't just mean the fans. I'm talking about ushers, concession workers, the maintenance crew.  Arena volunteers and employees were literally ignoring their duties – not that anyone minded – to catch the next shot or save.

If there's one thing I learned up here in nine days, its that all of Canada has seemingly pinned its hopes on their hockey team.  The media dissects everything over and again. (I picked up a newspaper with seven pages of Team Canada hockey coverage.) 

The patriotism of fans – whether as fleeting as these two weeks or more permanent – clad in Crosby, Brodeur and Iginla jerseys, translates into a lot of pressure.  All eyes are on Team Canada.  To use a local metaphor most Jerseyans would understand, imagine the scrutiny of the New York Yankees multiplied by ten. That's only a fraction of the media blitz and fanatic zeal surrounding these games.  (By the way, the local media has been all over Team Canada, finding fault with everything from the defense to a lack of chemistry with the forwards, minus the Shark Line.  Meanwhile, the line of the day came from a couple fans chanting "Let's Go Sharks!" during the first period.)

When I left the arena, the streets were filled with people, just like every other night for the past week and change, but with one difference: it was like a morgue.  The hooting and hollering, the sounds of horns, cars honking, maniacs screaming their heads off, impromptu chants of "Go Canada Go!" and attempts at "O, Canada," all these things that have been ringing in my ears since last Saturday, they were all absent from the city.  It's like someone suckerpunched an entire country in the gut, taking the wind right out of them.

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