Saturday, February 21, 1998
The world just ended
For Canada, these XVIII Olympic Winter Games are over.
Now it doesn't matter whether we finally win against the United States in the great medal standings race.
We've lost hockey. All of a sudden, the rest doesn't matter much. That's the way we are. We're weird that way.
We lost hockey, this time, with our NHL pros. With Wayne Gretzky. And without Wayne Gretzky. And it's never felt like this before.
"History will say this was a great hockey game between two great hockey teams,'' said coach Marc Crawford when it was over.
History will also say that he blew it for not allowing Wayne Gretzky, the greatest goalscorer and point getter of all time to take a shot for Canada in the shootout.
And history will probably also question why the greatest leader in the history of the game, Mark Messier, was left off the team and why Ray Bourque of all people took a shootout shot and ...
Gretzky will be the main controversy.
The player with the greatest sense of stage in hockey history had to watch Canada get removed from the greatest stage in sport without having a chance to do anything about it.
Marc Crawford has to be haunted by this. He has to wake up every morning wondering if he'd put Gretzky in there, would Gretzky have scored?
It doesn't matter that Gretzky has never been a breakaway or penalty shot scorer. He's Gretzky.
So it was that the gold was gone. And when the gold was gone the Games were over for Canada.
"We came here to win the gold medal. Gold or nothing. And now it's nothing,'' said Steve Yzerman.
IN CANADA, ONE MEDAL
Oh, they went out there and played the bronze medal game. But in Canada there is only one medal, like the man says. Gold. And it will be the 50th anniversary of the Edmonton Mercurys, the last team to win one, when Canada goes to Salt Lake City for the XIX Olympic Winter Games in 2002.
It's a pretty medal, the bronze medals they give out at the Nagano Olympics. Kevin Overland, Eric Bedard, Catriona Le May Doan and the women's short-track speed skating team liked theirs.
But most Canadians felt like Patrick Roy after the game.
"It was the only chance in my life to get a gold medal and it's gone,'' he said. "Going after a bronze medal is not the objective.''
Next to nobody wanted to go to the rink for the bronze medal game.
A CLASSY ACT
But Canada's pros were a class act every minute they were in Japan. And they could hold their heads up in losing to the Czechs, even though it totally spoiled Gary Bettman's great NHL Olympic experiment.
Marc Crawford deserves to have nightmares for the rest of his life when he sits up in a cold sweat and wonders why he didn't go to Gretzky.
Knock him all you want.
But don't knock Canada's hockey heroes for the way they played or handled themselves here.
This isn't the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Olympic hockey tournament can be a lot like short-track speed skating. There's an element of spin-the-bottle to it.
You can play great for four games, run into a great goaltender or just can't get through to get to one, as happened in the semifinal against Dominik Hasek.
But that's the Olympics.
The shootout isn't fair. It isn't close to being fair. I'm not sure there's a worse way to lose in sport.
But then we've watched skaters and skiers lose an edge here and see four years go away in the blink of an eye.
Why should our pro hockey players be immune?
Eric Lindros knew what it was like to win a shootout from the Albertville crossover game.
And Paul Kariya, if he'd been here, could have told everybody what it was like to lose from the gold medal game in Lillehammer four years ago.
And when you're watching it, at the Olympic Games, it's more excruciating than it is exciting.
When you lose it's oh so empty. It had nothing to do with hockey. It's like throwing a football through a tire to settle football games or having a home run contest to settle baseball games.
But when you win ...
It's a wonderful way to win.
"People in Czech, they have a vacation because of this,'' said Dominik Hasek. "They do not go to work.''
They go to work in Canada Monday morning. With a different hangover.