The best reason to love/hate sport
Something amazing happened yesterday. And it involves sport.
Canada was playing the USA in the Olympic ice hockey final and were trailing 0-2 with 4 minutes left. The USA had been a strong team throughout the tournament and most were surprised Canada had even beaten them in the group stages.
It looked over. Canada women’s 16 year winning streak at the Olympics was finally coming to an end. Canadian PM Stephen Harper looked like he would have to fork over a case of beer to Obama in a lost bet. It was done.
And then a glimmer of hope.
Some would say it was pressure, some skill, and others would call it blind luck, but Canadian Brianne Jenner scored at 3:26 from a ricochet off an American player. Canada began to believe again. I cheered. I began to believe again.
But they were still 2-1 down with just over 3 minutes to play – a significant hill to climb by all accounts.
Time was ticking away. As every second passed the Americans inched closer to the end, the team almost feeling the gold medals around their neck. The defence was solid and strong, not letting Canada burst through.
With just over a minute to go the Canadian goalie was pulled.
In ice hockey there are 6 people on the rink, 5 outfield players and 1 goalie, if you pull your goalie, you replace them with an outfield player and your goal is left empty. Needless to say, it’s a risky strategy.
Six players attacking. One extra body. Pushing.
One loose puck and Team USA hoofed it down the rink in the direction of the goal. Time moved excruciatingly slowly as the puck inched its way towards the open arms of the Canadian goal. No-one was nearby. No-one could stop it. All anyone could do was watch.
It hit the post. IT HIT THE POST. This would have been the nail in the coffin for Canada and it hit the post.
The Canadian team picked the puck up by their goal and began to charge back towards the Americans. Time still following its course, counting the seconds down until Team USA added to their gold medal tally.
A face-off was called. A time-out was called. The huddles by the team benches instrumental in determining the next 60 seconds.
As the players returned from the time-out you could feel the fear oozing from them.
Face-off. Puck goes to Canada. Scramble by the goal. Goal. GOAL! Canada scored!
Canada overturned a 0-2 deficit with only 4 minutes to go against, arguably, the best team in the world. That doesn’t happen too often.
The final period came to an end and the scoreline was 2-2. Into overtime.
Overtime begun with a sense of urgency from both sides, of pushing and pressing, wanting to get that ‘golden goal’. There were efforts on both sides of the ice, with both goalies put through their paces.
Puck goes one way. Shot. Stopped. Puck goes the other way. Shot. Stopped. Repeat.
As tension builds, people do stupid things: 7 minutes into overtime and Canada were penalised for cross-checking – a soft foul which had no place being committed at that time. A player was sent to the penalty box and Canada was left short-handed against a strong American team for 2 minutes.
But tension works both ways. America fouled and another player made their way to the penalty box. The sides were even once more.
America fouled again! Canada were now a player up into this overtime session. It had suddenly switched around and Canada were on a power play.
The power play ticked down. A few more seconds and the Americans would be back to full strength. Inside I was screaming “don’t waste it!”
Canada passes. And passes. And passes. No-one takes the shot. No-one wants to take the shot. No-one wants it on them.
Until it all becomes clear and one final, beautiful pass leaves the American goalie helpless and open. The puck shoots from Marie-Philip Poulin’s stick and the game is over.
Whilst I was watching this match I was going crazy. I had given up on us winning because it looked like an insurmountable task, I just didn’t think it could be done. But here Canada was, coming back from the ashes to win in overtime.
This has all the traits of a Hollywood film. Tension and release. Problems and solutions. An against the odds comeback. Winners and losers. Glory and heartbreak.
Of course, this will never be made by Hollywood because America didn’t win but I’m hoping it will be shown on replay reels in Canada for some years. Preferably with a slightly grainy camera filter and heart-warming music behind every goal.
This is why I love all sport, because it is so full of unpredictability, ups and downs, and you can become so invested in it. It’s wondrous.
But it’s also fickle. This post wouldn’t have been written if Canada lost and I would have been annoyed at hockey as a concept. That’s something I can live with though. As long as I can occasionally bask in the glory of winning, and winning in such a nail-biting way, then I’m happy.
After all, sport would mean nothing if there was never any competition, it would lack the drama of an untold story waiting to come into full technicolour, red and white, light.