Monday, February 22, 2010

One of the longest and best days of my life...

Vancouver, BC - It's almost noon on Monday and I just woke up. My voice hurts, my feet hurt - heck, my whole body hurts. However, it was all worth it. Taking in three hockey games in one day is tough on anybody, regardless of your love of the game.

I've been fortunate enough to see the Kings play in Canada a number of times - Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, you name it - the host fans have always been more than gracious. Very polite, accommodating people - glad to have you in their town. Flying up here I expected the same for the most part. In 2002 Salt Lake was a fun atmosphere, the spirit of the Olympics was alive. Great hockey, great people. I was looking forward to more of the same this time around.

The first game didn't disappoint. Russians wanted nothing to do with me in Salt Lake when they played Team USA. Here, the fans were great. Russia-Czech Republic was a party like atmosphere. Flags everywhere, people chanting in different languages...and a tight, close game kept the energy level up until the very end - minus about a seven minute period in the middle.

Right at center ice, on top of the Olympic logo ironically, Ovehckin laid an incredible hit on Jagr. As he skated away with Jaromir flat on his back, all I could think was 'Well, that didn't embody the spirit of the Olympics.'

That was the turning point in the game. It took quite some time for the Czech team to get their composure and confidence back after that hit. When they did, there just wasn't enough time on the clock. Russia looked good in their win...and despite their suspect defense (Denis Grebeshkov, anyone?), they look like a strong bet for a medal.

Leaving that game I knew the entire day was about to change. Canadians take their hockey VERY serious. This town had been buzzing about the USA-Canada game all week. People were whipped up into a frenzy and it I just knew it was about to get worse.

Then something changed. I don't know when, where or how it happened exactly.

This town -which had been so boisterous about their team...where people of all ages couldn't wait to tell you how superior their team was...suddenly, none of them had something to say.

And I'm talking about BEFORE the game started.

Walking into the arena for Canada-USA was like walking to a funeral. If you weren't here, you would never believe it. It was quiet...and I mean drop dead quiet. You could feel the proverbial noose tightening around their necks. All the hype, all the pressure was starting to get to them. They had talked so much all week long, now reality was hitting. Could they back it up?

Forty five minutes before game time it was VERY quiet inside the arena, even though the entire place was a sea of red. No cowbells rattling, no 'Oh Canada' chants. Nothing. Did we make a wrong turn? Were we in church or at one of the biggest hockey games of all time?

Perhaps it was the beer, perhaps it was the music in the arena, I don't know. But once their team hit the ice for warm-ups the Canadian fans woke up. The energy level rocketed up...quickly.

A guy next to me kept elbowing me out of the way during warm ups. He was intent on showing his sign proudly proclaimed 'Hockey is Our Game' across a Canadian flag. When some kid tried to get a puck from one of the American players he was quick to let him know 'It's just a Canadian tire, it's not even worth a dollar.' Again, not exactly feeling the Olympic spirit here guys.

By the time the puck dropped for game time it was a sea of red...ninety percent of them wearing a Team Canada jersey. Flags were flying. Men, women and children were chanting, cheering and causing commotion everywhere.

Then, it happened. Forty one seconds after it started, Brian Rafalski puts one in the net. USA 1-0 and they all began to grip hard. No, real hard.

Throughout the building they tried to shake it off. They tried to tell themselves and their neighbors it was going to be OK. You heard it all - bad goal, no big deal, their only goal of the night, whatever. They were trying to convince themselves they were still going to win the game. However, you could see it their eyes, they didn't really believe what they were saying.

8:53 of the first - Eric Stall scores to tie the game. The Canadian fans were clapping and high fiving. But, then it happened...

Just 25 seconds later Rafalski scores AGAIN to put the U.S. up 2-1. Their looks said it all...could it be? They were baffled at intermission how they could be down by a goal.

Before I move on I'd be remiss not to mention Canadian fans love for Doughty. They won't stop talking about him - and this is even before they know I'm from LA. Tons of praise. They're starting to realize how special he is.

Heatley scored early in the second to tie things up. Finally they started to show some confidence. The next 13 minutes featured some of the most exciting hockey you'll ever see. Back and forth action that had the entire arena on the edge of it's seat. That is until Chris Drury scored for Team USA with just a few minutes remaining in the second.

Down 3-2...and trailing for the second intermission in a row...people were holding their breath going into the third. One of my favorite moments might have been when I was in line to get food and some lady looks at me says 'How does it feel knowing all these people want to punch you in the face?' E-A-S-Y lady. Calm down a bit, would!

You probably already know the rest - at least you better! - Lagenbrunner scores early in the third to put the U.S. up 4-2 (my cynical mind has me worried at this point - I'm thinking about the U.S. team letting Canada back into things at the World Juniors on New Years Ever)...the refs started looking to even things up (not a complaint, just a fact) - so Canada gets a couple of powerplay opportunities...Crosby scores with 3:09 left in the third to give the entire nation hope...a few minutes later they pull Brodeur - hoping to get that big goal to tie in, forcing over time.

It doesn't happen. Home town Canuck, Ryan Kessler, scores into an empty net to ice it for Team USA. They did it! They beat Canada on their home turf. And poor Kessler will probably get boo'd when he returns to the NHL after the Olympic break. Locals may not let him forget the knife he put in their back while wearing the red, white and blue.

Ron Wilson also deserves a ton of credit. Perfect game plan, perfect execution. The team remained calm, focused and never let the crowd get into their heads.

The Canadian fans were very gracious in defeat, acknowledging Team USA was the better team on this given day.

After the third and final game (Sweden-Finland) we eventually ended up at a local pub to unwind and celebrate Super Sunday here in Canada. One local summed it up best as we discussed the USA-Canada game...'Your goalie stood on his head, our goalie shit the bed.'

That's about it, eh!

The Mayor

note - I've posted several pictures from the games (including current and former Kings) on my twitter account. Click here to see the links and photos.

For more Olympics coverage on MayorsManor - including some exclusive pictures - simply type OLYMPICS in the search box near the top left corner of this page.

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