With only a few hours left before the Closing Ceremony, there was still one more event to go, and not just any event: the final of the men’s ice hockey, between Canada and the USA. At noon on Sunday 28 February 2010, the streets of Vancouver were practically deserted. Its inhabitants could be found gathered in bars or in their living rooms, surrounded by family and friends, determined not miss a single second of the match. At the Canada Hockey Place arena, nearly 18,000 spectators fortunate enough to get their hands on a ticket took their seats in the stands to support the Canadian cause.
“It's our Game”
Canada won six of the first seven Olympic tournaments (Antwerp 1920, Chamonix 1924, St Moritz 1928, Lake Placid 1932, St Moritz 1948 and Oslo 1952), before the Winter Games saw a period of domination by the Soviet Union, who, aside from two “Miracles on Ice” (the US victories at Squaw Valley 1960 and Lake Placid 1980), won eight gold medals between 1956 and 1992 – competing as the Unified Team in the last of these victories. At Lillehammer 1994, Canada lost to Sweden in the final on penalties, and the Nagano 1998 competition was won by the Czech Republic, with the Canadians failing to even make the podium. Canada finally claimed their seventh Olympic title at Salt Lake City 2002, 50 years after the previous one, before getting knocked out in the quarter-finals of Turin 2006 by Russia and finishing in seventh place, with Sweden once again clinching gold.
In other words, in Vancouver – in a country in which the saying about ice hockey is “It’s our Game” – the importance of this final could not be overstated. The Canadian team were playing on home soil, and an entire nation, from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific, was swept up in the excitement. The atmosphere was exceptional in the arena itself, and the match was a particularly tense affair.
The home side included several players who had also been part of the gold medal-winning team at Salt Lake City 2002 (Chris Pronger, captain Scott Niedermayer, Martin Brodeur and Jarome Iginla) and who were hungry for revenge after the disappointment of Turin. En route to the final, the Canadians finished second in their preliminary round group, beating Norway 8-0 and Switzerland 3-2 in a shootout before losing 5-3 to the USA, in what would prove to be only the first clash between the two teams. In the qualification playoffs, Canada dispatched Germany with an 8-2 victory, before defeating Russia 7-3 in the quarter-final and Slovakia 3-2 in the semi-final. Iginla was the team’s top scorer going into the final match with seven goals, one more than Crosby.
Crosby delivers to send country into frenzy
The crowd at Canada Hockey Place erupted for the first time after 12:50 in the first period of the gold-medal game, when Jonathan Toews opened the scoring following an assist from Mike Richards. The excitement in the arena cranked up a notch when Corey Perry doubled Canada’s lead in the second period. But the Americans regrouped and got a foothold back in the game. Five minutes after Perry’s goal, Ryan Kesler reduced the deficit after being set up by Patrick Kane. Then, with seconds to go until the end of normal time, Zach Parise silenced the crowd with an equaliser to take the score to 2-2 and the game to sudden death. The tension was palpable.
The Canadians went back on the attack. Seven minutes into overtime, Crosby exchanged passes with Iginla and slotted the puck between the legs of American goalkeeper Ryan Miller for a golden goal, delivering an Olympic title that produced joyous celebrations across the city and country. The streets of Vancouver were filled with ecstatic crowds who celebrated their team’s victory well into the night. The celebrations also made their way to BC Place Stadium, the enormous indoor arena that was serving as the venue for the Closing Ceremony. The win sparked joy across the whole of Canada, from Montreal and Toronto to Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton, and Crosby became a national hero. It was an unforgettable moment.
Ninth title at Sochi 2014
Canada, without a World Championship title since 2007, were back to defend their Olympic crown at the Sochi Winter Games in February 2014. Crosby was named captain. At the tournament, the Canadians won all their matches en route to the final, without the captain scoring a single goal. It was on 23 February, on the ice at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in the gold-medal game, which Canada won 3-0 against Sweden, that the famous no. 87 opened his account with his team’s second goal in the second period. Canada claimed their ninth Olympic title, and Crosby his second successive gold medal.
“It’s amazing!” said Crosby following Canada’s victory. “Listen, in Vancouver there was nothing in it; we won in overtime. Since then, lots of things have happened. To be in the same situation again, alongside lots of guys who were part of the team in Vancouver, is really special.”
We all believed in each other, and in our style of play. Sidney Crosby - Sidney Crosby
Canada went on to win two consecutive world titles in 2015 and 2016 but had to settle for bronze at the PyeongChang 2018 Games after a 4-3 semi-final defeat to Germany, followed by a 6-4 victory against the Czech Republic in the bronze-medal match. With a total of nine gold, four silver and three bronze medals, Canada are the most successful ice hockey team in Olympic history.
The triumph at Vancouver 2010, though, was particularly special – a mission accomplished on home soil and an achievement celebrated by an entire nation.