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Shanny says ...

by Brendan Shanahan / Detroit Red Wings
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.

The Americans are an interesting group. A changing of the guard from their Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, Mike Modano era to a new Zach Parise, Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel era means they're young, they're fast, and potentially unhindered by the pressures facing the other hockey powers. This makes them dangerous.

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."

Well, two out of three 'aint bad.

Shanny appears on NHL Live!
2.15.2010 / 2:37 PM

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