Before I run off to the airport, I just want to add one more comment: As soon as Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Olympic Games, Canadians began imagining the golden moment for their men's hockey team. After a national sigh of relief, the next sounds you'll hear coming from the Great White North are 30-odd million people celebrating that their beloved hockey team has won gold.
I can't describe the atmosphere in the arena today, the written word would not do it justice. Congratulations to all of the Canadian players and management, but especially my buddy Stevie Y. As Executive Director of Team Canada's gold medal-winning men's hockey team, maybe a nation will accept that the boy has grown up, and will finally start referring to him as "Steve."
I doubt it. Way to go Stevie.
The rematch is set 2.27.2010 / 11:15 PM
I remember the buzz in Salt Lake leading up to what we North Americans thought was the perfect gold medal match. I'll never forget seeing my Red Wings teammate Chris Chelios in the Olympic Village the night before that game. We agreed that neither of our teams would walk away losers and that it was fantastic that one of us would win gold and the other silver. We shook hands and wished each other luck. A split second later as I turned to walk away, I thought, "Screw that, man, I want the gold." I'm sure Chris [the godfather of USA hockey] was thinking exactly the same thing.
Here we are again: a game between two countries that respect and often root for each other, but are also fierce competitors when facing each other. I can't recall a game where so many hockey experts from so many different backgrounds have had such a wide range of opinions about who is going to win. The consensus is this: whichever team imposes its strengths on the other and dictates the style of play is the team that will likely win.
If Canada wins, it will be because of their size, their strength and their ability to drive to the net relentlessly. At the end of a grueling Olympic schedule, the bigger Canadians want to lean on and pound the smaller American team. If the Americans win, it will be because they played the game with speed, quick strikes and a smothering forecheck.
Since both teams have strengths that are most effective in their opponents' defensive zone, I believe the play in the neutral zone could dictate the outcome. In game one between the two teams in which the USA beat Canada 5-3, the Americans consistently avoided turnovers in the neutral zone. With great discipline they put the puck in deep and let their speed and forechecking create confusion and turnovers for a besieged Canadian defense.
Meanwhile, in spurts the Canadians tried to stick-handle and weave their way through the neutral zone, which led to turnovers and more American counter-attacks. It's fair to say the Canadians did not play poorly in that game and that goaltending was the major difference between winning and losing. If Ryan Miller is able to continue his near-perfect play, he will surely be the tournament MVP. These are two teams that have gotten stronger as the tournament has progressed. They're hitting the gold medal game with confidence and momentum, which should lead to one of the most memorable hockey games ever played.
At this point, the Olympic Village has transformed from a crowded community of disciplined athletes to a thinned-out, party town where 95 percent of the participants have fulfilled their Olympic duties. For those Olympians who are finished competing, game faces, warm-up regiments and healthy eating are replaced with laughter, relaxation and long lines at the McDonalds in the athletes' cafeteria.
However, there are 46 hockey players still sharking through the village with that look in their eyes that says they know their greatest Olympic moment may be only hours away. Olympic Villages are small and I'm sure players from the two teams are bumping into each other and exchanging pleasantries. They are wishing each other luck and assuring their opponents, "We’re all winners, regardless of the outcome." That's good sportsmanship. However, I suspect in that split second as they turn to walk away, their true feelings come out and they're all saying to themselves, "screw that, man, I want to win gold."
The Triple Gold Club 2.23.2010 / 7:38 PM
The one thing that really sticks out in my mind when I reflect on my career is the championships. Specifically, the difficult moments that came up in trying to win the games and the amazing teammates that made winning possible.
Monday night, I, along with 21 other NHL players, was honored for being a member of the "Triple Gold Club." The 22 of us have each won the World Championships, the Stanley Cup, and Olympic Gold in our hockey careers.
I could talk a lot about each and every one of those championships and teams. Instead, I'll focus on the one or two things that stick out in my mind from each of those championship moments.
1994 World Championships, Milano, Italy
The galvanizing moment for this group was an intense team meeting held prior to the elimination round. One of our teammates had been caught out after curfew and has obviously been over-served (during a three-day break in the competition). In the dressing room, our coach, George Kingston, threw a passport and a Canadian loonie in the middle of the dressing room floor. We thought one of our teammates was going home. As a group, we rushed to his defense, and demanded that the coaching staff get behind us.
From that meeting on, we were an extremely tight-knit team, coaching staff and players alike, who would not be beaten. We won gold for the first time in 31 years after defeating Finland in a shootout.
1997 Stanley Cup Championship, Detroit, Michigan
What I remember about this Detroit team was, despite the fact that we were well-known throughout the NHL as a group that boasted "The Russian 5" and were recognized as a puck-control, highly skilled team, we were actually the meanest, toughest and most physically punishing team that I've ever played on.
Our third-round victory over the Colorado Avalanche was an epic battle and the four-game sweep of the big, tough, "Legion of Doom" Philadelphia Flyers in the Final was testimony to that fact. It was Detroit's first Cup in 42 years, but it was only the beginning. Over the next five years, we'd win two more.
2002 Olympic Gold Medal, Salt Lake City, Utah
After a less-than impressive start, this gold medal-winning Team Canada (Canada's first in 50 years) really grew stronger and stronger each game. It was proof that in an Olympic tournament, it's not how you start, but how you finish.
Even though Team Sweden beat us in the opener, 5-2, we all agreed in the locker room afterwards, it could have and should have been 20-2. They were that good, and we were totally unprepared for the "Torpedo" system of hockey that I've yet to see since (thank God). It was an innovation from then-Swedish head coach Hardy Nilsson where the traditional lines between defense and forwards were erased, and completely interchangeable.
We were a happy group when Belarus shocked and eliminated them in the quarters. But by the time we played the U.S. in the final, we had become a well-oiled machine and a thick-skinned group.
I'll always remember sitting in the dressing room, gold medals around our necks, still dripping with sweat, and Kevin Lowe, then-associate Director for Team Canada saying "The only thing I'm sad about tonight is, as good as this team is today, and as much as you've improved over a week, I regret that we won't see how good we could be next week."
That Olympic championship completed my Triple Gold membership.
I'm sure all 21 of the other members have similar stories about each of their championship moments. We are lucky to a play a team sport with such rich friendships and I'm honored to be a part of this 22-man team.
Canadian wake-up call bad news for U.S. 2.20.2010 / 9:00 AM
I'm trying to get in the heads of the Team USA brain trust. While watching Team Canada squeak out a shootout victory against the Swiss, I couldn't help but wonder what coach Ron Wilson and General Manager Brian Burke were thinking.
As pleased as USA was in beating Norway, I have to believe that the coaching staff's attention already had turned to Sunday's game against Canada before most players had taken off their skates. When you are about to play a hockey "super power," there is a part of you that hopes the team you're facing comes in over-confident and unprepared for the attack you're planning. Were Burke and Wilson thinking, OK Swiss team, THANKS A LOT -- you just woke up this entire team AND country?!
It is in the nature of hockey players to over-pass when they have new line mates or teammates. A prime example is Drew Doughty (who I love as a player) doing a spin-o-rama in OT and then throwing a blind, backhand pass into the slot when he could have simply drove the net himself for the potential winner. I played for Mike Babcock. I promise you that he and Drew are having a simple little meeting today with Mike's laptop. "Son, don't do this. Do that! OK, goodbye. Go have a good practice." I would guess that after watching tape of the game, Canada will do its best to be more selfish with their shot selection.
I predict Canada will pound pucks at the net against the USA. They will go to the net hard. They will never pass up an opportunity to shoot and they'll get those huge bodies to the paint. When they don't have a play on the rush, they will "pass" the puck off Miller with a wave of players driving the crease.
The USA is an interesting, young team. I've listened to people critique them the first two games, but all I know is that they've efficiently done their job. They beat the teams they were supposed to. They've gotten contributions from everybody and solid goaltending. What's not to like?
My guess is that Team USA will want to get into a track meet with Canada -- open the game up and use their speed. If this happens, it's anybody's game. The USA can match Canada with speed, but I don't think they can match Canada with strength -- Malone, Orpik and Backes help, but the Americans don't have Canada's depth in this department. In the end, I believe Canada's depth and strength will be too much for the young American team. Especially (with thanks to the Swiss) coming off this latest scare.
Sid and Marty step up at crucial time 2.19.2010 / 3:17 PM
As Sidney Crosby officially established himself as Team Canada's leader, and Martin Brodeur solidified his reputation as Canada's go-to guy, an entire country held its collective breath.
While most of Canada and the hockey world are discussing Thursday's game as a chink in the armor, I view the game as incredibly valuable for Team Canada. To experience this fear and desperation early on and still find a way to win could serve as an advantage to Team Canada as we move into the final week.
It will be interesting to see how Team Canada reacts in Sunday's game vs. the USA. Will they be gun-shy? Nervous? Rattled? Or do they come out stronger, guns blazing and more determined than ever not to be in that situation again?
In a short tournament like this, I view this game as a necessary team-building experience.
But back to Sid. Late in that game, I found myself thinking "OK Sid, now's your time. Now's when legends like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux would step up and carry Team Canada through a difficult moment." Although he didn't score in regulation or OT, you could see the determination and desperation in his stride. It was obvious he, too, recognized this moment and was trying everything he could to burst through the stingy and disciplined Swiss defense.
"It will be interesting to see how they react in Sunday's game vs. the USA. Will they be gun-shy? Nervous? Rattled? Or do they come out stronger, guns blazing and more determined than ever not to be in that situation again? In a short tournament like this, I view this game as a necessary team-building experience." --Brendan Shanahan
When the shootout came, how perfect that Sid had the opportunity (even though it was his second attempt) to give Canada the lead they needed. And he delivered, as all great players do. Now it only gets tougher. But I have to believe his confidence has grown, having this clutch goal under his belt.
Now, to Marty. When Brodeur didn't start Game 1 for Team Canada, a lot of people were surprised, and speculated who the No. 1 truly was. I saw it as a great coaching move. Coming into the Olympics, I felt the starting job was Marty's to lose. Although Roberto Luongo played very well in Game 1, Marty showed Thursday night that he's not prepared to give that role up yet. I can't blame him for either one of the Swiss goals, and his performance during the shootout should have a calming influence on his teammates going forward.
All of Canada would've slept better had they spanked the Swiss 10-0. However, I think this experience, this adversity, is exactly what Team Canada needed right now. A win is a win, and they found a way to do it.
The agony and the ecstasy 2.16.2010 / 4:07 PM
As a member of Team Canada heading to Nagano, Japan, to compete for gold at the 1998 Winter Olympics, we felt prepared for the challenge. We were coming off the 1996 World Cup loss to the United States, so we were not taking the tournament lightly. We had built a really big, tough, strong team.
Early on in the tournament we were steamrolling the teams that we felt were going to be stiff competition. Team Sweden? Hammered them. Team USA? Destroyed them. We were a true powerhouse, and felt we were playing up to our expectations.
Then, despite all that confidence and momentum, we ran into a Czech team with half a roster of NHL players and half made up of players from other leagues. We also ran up against what seemed like a brick wall in Dominik Hasek.
With our goalie pulled, we tied the game 1-1 in the final minute. When neither team scored in OT, the game went to a shootout. The Czechs scored on their first shot to take an early lead, while Hasek stopped Canada's first four shooters. I was selected as the fifth. With my team and all of Canada's hopes on my shoulders, Dominik made the save and our gold medal hopes were over. The country was devastated. I was devastated.
A devastated Shanahan hangs his head after getting stopped by Hasek while the Czechs celebrate behind.
Up until that point I always felt like things worked out as they were supposed to. When I was selected as the last shooter and had to score to keep the shootout alive, I skated on the ice truly feeling as if I was the right man for the job.
When I didn't score, aside from the devastation, I also felt confusion. What happened to my good fortune? Where was the luck o' the Irish? Even friends from back home told me they were shocked to see me in a situation where things didn't fall into play for me or the team.
After the long flight home and many restless nights, I had to come to a conclusion as to why this Olympic experience was such a failure. A few days later it came to me -- this was a lesson. So I wrote a note to myself, sealed it, mailed it, and then kept it in my desk for four long years.
I believed that Nagano had simply come too easily. The bitterness of not winning in '98 was going to make Salt Lake City that much sweeter.
But when the invites came out for the summer orientation camp in Calgary, I was not on the list. Would I not be able to go to Salt Lake and seek redemption?
Two days before camp started, Wayne Gretzky called me and said a spot had opened up due to an injury and would I like to come to camp?
The rest of the story is Canadian history.
Shanahan jumps on Sakic after his breakaway goal.
Unlike Nagano, our team started slowly, but grew into a powerful team by tournament's end. All the heartache of Nagano truly did make this gold medal a sweeter moment. Regardless of what country an athlete is from, all Olympians are motivated by something.
In 2010, Team Canada is playing on home soil and trying to erase the memory of a 7th-place finish in Torino.
The Russians would love nothing more than to take gold on Canadian Ice, thereby solidifying their status as hockey's current No. 1-ranked team.
But I think the most dangerous team going into the tournament is Sweden. I don't know how these guys are under the radar, but they are. They have many returning gold medalists, and Henrik Lundqvist, who I think is the best goalie in hockey.
The Finns, the Czechs, the Slovaks are all dangerous, but barring a goaltender stealing the tournament, I see them as potential spoilers, not gold medalists. All the best to them if they prove me wrong.
Whether you're cheering for one of these teams or the five others -- Norway, Germany, Latvia, Belarus or Switzerland -- what we should all be expecting is great drama, great stories and great athletes. This is a time when the game's best players are in their prime and motivated to create history. As a hockey fan, I believe this could be the best hockey tournament ever played.
P.S. When I arrived home from Salt Lake City with my gold medal, I went to the desk, pulled out a still-sealed envelope, and handed it to my wife (post-marked 1998). She opened it, and read:
"I will play in the next Olympics. We will win the gold medal. And I am going to score the winner."