Not since the eighth and final game of the 1972 Russia-Canada Series has there been such bubbly excitement and nervous anticipation as there was for Sunday’s Olympic Gold Medal final. Hockey fans in both countries pointed towards the three o’clock puck drop like children waiting on Christmas Eve for Santa to come. They were not disappointed.
In one of the best hockey games played in years, Sidney Crosby, the face of Team Canada through the two and a half Olympic weeks, scored the winning overtime goal at 7:40 of the overtime period to give his country a 3-2 victory and their first gold medal since 2002.
The game was a microcosm of the events we witnessed in all the preceding games.
In every Olympics certain players step up and become international stars, playing the best hockey of their lives on the world stage with all the chips on the table. These Olympics were no different. The stars we expected to pull their weight and play well did. Familiar names like Niedermayer, Pronger, Iginla, Boyle, Luongo, Rafalski played up to the high standard we expect of them. In these Olympics however a new wave of NHL players emerged as the definite stars of the immediate future.
First and foremost there was Ryan Miller, the Olympic MVP. Whether he was stealing the first game from Team Canada 5-3 with 42 saves, blanking Switzerland and Sweden on the way to the Gold Medal game, or making save after impossible save in each and every game, his star shone brighter than that Olympic flame in the Canadian sky.
Zach Parise, to the surprise of no one who follows the New Jersey Devils, emerged as the hardest working sniper
on the ice. From the opening minute of the first Canada game when his tough forecheck caused the first turnover and, as a result, the opening goal of the game, to his battling in Luongo’s crease to score the tying goal in the final thirty seconds of the final game, Parise stepped up and stepped out.
Team captain Jamie Langenbrunner, Zach’s wing mate, with ferocious forechecks and pinpoint passes, showcased the Devils style of hockey: hard check, turnover, quick shot, goal. Long considered a hard-working journeyman, Jamie showed why he has Stanley Cup rings with two different teams. His emergence was long overdue.
Brendan Morrow the Controversial Pick
Brendan Morrow shrugged off the same mantle as Langenbrunner and emerged as a key part of the Team Canada power play, screening in front of the net, deflecting in key goals and throwing some of the hardest hits on his club. In the run-up to the Games, Brian Burke’s choice of Morrow was the target of criticism by many journalists and broadcasters. His tough play quickly put those fears to rest.
Drew Doughty and Shea Weber were two Canadian defensemen who proved tight and steady on defense and powerful and quick on offense. Weber possesses the hardest shot in hockey today as witnessed by the goal he scored that went through the webbing of the net leaving rubber marks from the puck burned on the twine. No one on the ice knew a goal had been scored until the instant relay proved it had gone not by the net but THROUGH the net.
Ryan Suter was so effective on Team USA’s blue line he had more ice time than any other D in the tournament. Erik Johnson and Jack Johnson, both in their sophomore years in the NHL played solid, effective hockey, defensively in their own end and offensively, carrying the puck and making great passes. All three will be stars for years to come.
The speed of play in these games outpaced anything I have ever seen on a hockey rink. There is definitely a new brand of hockey being played now, both in the NHL and internationally, and it was on full display in Vancouver over these past two weeks. Knowing these are our superstars of the future we can rest assured that our game is in good hands
Bravo Canada both on your Olympics and your hockey Gold Medal.