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Throwback: Canada earn first ice hockey gold in 50 years

24 Feb 2002:  Team Canada poses for a team photo after winning the men's ice hockey gold medal game 5-2 over the USA of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic at the E Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Breaking the curse

 

February 17th, 2002

The record had been a curse for an ice hockey-mad nation: no Canadian Olympic men’s gold medal in half a century.

Not even Wayne Gretsky, ‘The Great One’, now executive director of the national team, had managed to end the drought.

No wonder defenceman Al MacInnis said mournfully: “You don’t know what it’s like to have a piano on your back.”

 

Off to a bad start

And things could scarcely have started any worse for the Canadians at the Olympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002. They were thrashed 5-2 by Sweden in their opening game, leading to fierce criticism of the players and tactics in the national media.

There were even stories of dressing room dissent, and Gretsky lashed out angrily in interviews. The team managed to weather the storm though, steadily improving as the tournament progressed, and eventually setting up a final against their great rivals the USA.

The Americans, coached by Herb Brooks, had their own hoodoo to contend with, having failed to win the Olympic title since the ‘Miracle on Ice’ in 1980.

The USA started well, taking the lead at the E Center through Tony Amonte. Paul Kariya and Jarome Iginla hit back for the Canadians to put them ahead.

 

Turning things around

With four-and-a-half minutes to go, the game was perfectly poised after Brian Rafalski had netted for USA to tie the scores. This was when Joe Sakic, eight months on from leading the Colorado Rapids to a Stanley Cup triumph, stepped forward to inspire Canada and take the game out of reach for the Americans.

He scored to make it 3-2, set up Iginla for the fourth, and then added a fifth late on to make the scoreline emphatic.

“Now, after 50 years, it is time for Canada to stand up and cheer. Stand up and cheer everybody!”

CBC Commentator Bob Cole

The game had the biggest television sports audience in Canadian history and up in the commentary box CBC’s Bob Cole felt able to start celebrating.

“Now, after 50 years, it is time for Canada to stand up and cheer,” he shouted. “Stand up and cheer everybody!”

For Gretsky, the leading figure in Canadian ice hockey for a quarter of a century, this was vindication. Up in the private box, he could be seen jumping up and down, waving his arms and pumping his fists.

 

A day no Canadian will ever forget

At the end of the game he got a call of congratulation from the Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien. This was a day that no Canadian would ever forget.

Canada’s fans didn’t have to wait as long for their next ice hockey gold. Sweden won the title at Torino 2006, but Canada delighted their home fans when regaining Olympic gold at Vancouver 2010 and then successfully defended it at Sochi 2014.

 

 

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