To say expectations were high in Canada for the 2010 Olympics would be an understatement. While the women were always going to be co-favorites with the U.S., the men were coming off a brutally disappointing showing at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy. That group, which featured legends such as Joe Sakic, Rob Blake and Martin Brodeur, was coached by the iconic Pat Quinn and had Wayne Gretzky himself as GM.
But things went south for the Canadians during the round-robin in 2006, as they were shut out 2-0 by both Switzerland and Finland, before barely getting past the Czech Republic 3-2. Despite having a ton of firepower on the roster (including the deadly Tampa Bay trio of Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St-Louis), the offense never really got into gear and Canada bowed out to Russia in the quarterfinal, again shut out by a score of 2-0.
As 2010 rolled around, the spotlight once again fell on the Canadian men’s team. This time, the tournament would be held on home ice in Vancouver, and the players would skate on an NHL-sized sheet instead of Europe’s bigger surfaces. The difference between the two can be staggering: the smaller North American ice makes for a faster, more pressure-packed, physical game, where there is nowhere to hide and goalies have to be on their toes as soon as the puck enters the offensive zone. On international ice, play is much more methodical and defensive – teams can take advantage of the extra space to angle off potential offensive attacks and patience is a virtue.
Needless to say, Canada prefers the NHL ice, so Vancouver brought a welcome change. There was also a lot of change on the ice, as many of the stars from the 2006 team had aged out of their primes. That meant a new guard of players, who found their burgeoning stardom in the faster, post-lockout NHL, would be integral to Canada’s success. Under new GM Steve Yzerman, a mix of fresh faces and older veterans would be the key to victory: Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Drew Doughty were all playing in their first Olympics, while defensemen Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer had combined for four appearances at the Games prior to 2010, not to mention a Stanley Cup together with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.
Not to be outdone, the Americans came into the tournament with a similar blend of players. Chris Drury was suiting up in his third Olympics for Team USA, as was defenseman Brian Rafalski. Meanwhile, Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane was seeing his first action, as were Zach Parise and goaltender Ryan Miller, who went on to win the Vezina Trophy at the end of the 2009-10 NHL season.
The Americans hadn’t won an Olympic gold medal since the Miracle on Ice in 1980, but they drew first blood in Vancouver when they met their North American rivals in the round-robin. Rafalski and Jamie Langenbrunner led the offense, while Miller made 42 saves in a 5-3 victory for Team USA.
Thanks to demolitions of Germany and Russia (in the quarterfinal), however, Canada got back on track, while the U.S. surrendered just one goal in total in wins over Switzerland and Finland. The stage was set for a rematch, this time for the gold medal in front of a raucous Vancouver crowd.
RICK NASH: (Team Canada left winger) In Sochi at the 2014 Olympics, we went undefeated and obviously that’s the easier way, but when you lose early, it kinda brings you all together. You’re walking out of the rink, heading back to the Olympic Village and you bond. It brings you back to earth a bit. You might be the best players in the world, but you’re still human. We almost played looser in this gold-medal game because of that earlier loss.
RYAN WHITNEY: (Team USA defenseman) Everyone was super-confident, there was no thought of not beating them. Some people might think it hurt us to win the round-robin game, because it meant having to beat Canada twice in the same tournament, but that wasn’t our feeling. We felt we could do it.
MARTIN BRODEUR: (Team Canada goalie) We had a tough game against the U.S. in the first round of the tournament, we lost that game. We were confident because we gained momentum beating the Russians, who had a really good team, and we killed them pretty good. Going into the final we felt pretty good, but we knew that the one team that beat us was the U.S., and we had to play them in the final. We were careful about how optimistic we were. We felt we were in our hometown and that it would be a big advantage playing in Vancouver.
RYAN KESLER: (Team USA center) In the first meeting, we learned they’re beatable. We established ourselves, and not many people had given us a chance at the Olympics. We were all young and weren’t thought to be a top contender. But we had a lot of speed, and we stepped up to the challenge. We were loose, we were having fun, and we were young. It was a big game, we all knew it and, to be honest, we all stepped up. We got some great performances.
CHRIS PRONGER: (Team Canada defenseman) It was exciting. It was a totally different animal, with the pressure to win at home, coming off a tough Olympics in Italy, to say the least. The rollover of the core of the team meant adding young guys like (Ryan) Getzlaf, Crosby, (Corey) Perry and Doughty, a lot of new faces, up-and-coming stars that we didn’t have in 2006. It was nice not to have all the travel and wear and tear like other Olympics where you’re going to some far-off time zone in the middle of the NHL season.
The Canadian lineup that faced the Americans in the gold-medal game was similar to the one that lost to the U.S. in the round-robin, except it was put in a blender. Not only had Brodeur been replaced between the pipes by Roberto Luongo – who just happened to be the Vancouver Canucks’ star goalie at the time – but all the forward lines had been changed as well as nearly all the defensive pairings.
KEN HITCHCOCK: (Team Canada assistant coach) The feeling was we knew we had a good team, but that we had to get better. A lot of it was chemistry. We had a certain way of looking at things on paper, and by the final, all four lines had changed. The chemistry on paper was not manifesting itself on the ice. But the last three games, we were really good, the changes were effective. We liked how we were playing, and since the Russia game, we had been clicking on all cylinders.
It was probably the highest pace I’ve ever seen. You have one game. It’s not a chess match.
COREY PERRY: (Team Canada right winger) One-hundred percent. As the tournament went on, everyone started to come
together more. All the lines were switched. You have a coach in Mike Babcock who has a really good feel for his teams and a feel for his players, and in a short tournament that really helped us.
Pronger, the savvy veteran, ended up on a pairing with Doughty, who at 20 was the youngest and most precocious blueliner on the team.
PRONGER: It was his ability to move the puck and support the play. He has a high patience factor with the puck, and he has a lot of poise. He uses his feet, he uses his vision. As a younger player, he might have been a bit blind to the pressure of the situation, so he just went out and played. That certainly helped him, having the blinders on.
DREW DOUGHTY: (Team Canada defenseman) It was pretty weird at first, to be honest. I was only 19 or 20 at the time. I kind of went in as the seventh ‘D,’ and looking around it felt like maybe I shouldn’t be on the team. But then I started getting more minutes and started playing more, and all the older guys really took me in and made me feel comfortable. The biggest thing was they made it fun.
NASH: When you play at tournaments like that, it’s the first thing management or the coaches talk about, check your ego at the door. You’re used to playing 20 minutes a game in the NHL, but here you might have to take on a different role. Every successful international team I’ve been on has bought into that. I was on a shutdown line with Jonathan Toews and Mike Richards, which was pretty fun. The Parise line was having a great tournament for the U.S., and I remember there was special time in the video room on them.
But there is only so much preparation you can do and soon. It was time to play the game.
PERRY: I remember the game was in the afternoon, Vancouver time, so we had the whole morning to kill. I went for breakfast, and you could feel the excitement building around the Olympic Village.
NASH: They played the same Rush song every time we came out on the ice during the tournament, and it was awesome. One of the highlights of my career was walking out of the Vancouver Canucks dressing room and onto the ice for warmups.
WHITNEY: It was insane. It was like maybe Game 7 of a Stanley Cup on a larger scale because it was in Canada for a tournament that only happens every four years. The buzz when we stepped onto the ice was like nothing I’ve ever felt before.
PRONGER: Everybody knows what’s at stake. You’re leaving the next day, and you either have bragging rights or not.
The first period was fairly even in terms of shots and only one penalty was called – a tripping minor to Team USA’s Bobby Ryan. Toews, one of Canada’s young stars, got his team on the scoresheet first at 12:50: Team USA’s Erik Johnson made a quick pass in front of his own net to defense partner Rafalski, who was promptly stripped by Canada’s Richards. His initial shot was saved by Miller, but Toews was there to pop in the sharp-angle rebound, sending the Vancouver crowd into hysterics.
NASH: You always want to get the game started on the right foot and there was a lot of relief in getting the first goal of the game.
HITCHCOCK: Toews could dominate anybody he played against, and it gave us a terrific matchup advantage that we didn’t know we had before the tournament started. He could take anybody out with his competitive level.
SIDNEY CROSBY: (Team Canada center) I remember Toews had a pretty good game. And Niedermayer, too. He just controls the play when he’s out there, whether he’s carrying the puck or defending.
In the second period, the teams traded penalties, but neither scored on the man advantage. What became apparent, however, is the speed of the game went through the roof.
NASH: The pace was incredible. Sochi didn’t even get to that pace, because it was on the bigger ice, and obviously Vancouver was on NHL ice. I played in the Stanley Cup final (with the New York Rangers in 2014), and it wasn’t at that pace. Russia in the quarterfinal, then USA in the final was probably the highest pace I’ve ever seen. And you have one game to do it all. It’s not a chess match.
HITCHCOCK: I had been there since 2002, so I knew that shift by shift, the intensity and desperation of the players at the Olympics is so high. The more comfortable you can be in that atmosphere, the better. We knew we would set a competitive level that most teams couldn’t keep up with.
WHITNEY: They controlled the pace, but Miller made incredible saves. At any part of the roster, they were better on paper, but we worked hard and had great goaltending.
PRONGER: The style was emblematic of how far the team had come. That’s a big part of team bonding, how you come together as a group and how you face adversity. Back in 2002, we got smacked by Sweden in the round-robin and in 2010 we got smacked by the U.S. It was a bit of a slap in the face, but it’s better for that to happen in the round-robin than in the medal round.
Midway through the second period, an incredible diving stretch pass from Duncan Keith led to a Canadian rush. Getzlaf drove the puck in, taking a shot that hit the back of Whitney’s skate. Getzlaf’s partner in crime from Anaheim, Perry, was there to bury the loose puck.
PERRY: I was coming straight up the middle, and it was just me and Miller. I took an off-side one-timer, quick-release shot, and it went in. I was ecstatic.
NASH: That was a huge goal in taking the pressure off a little, it was all positive momentum. But you knew that, down 2-0, they were going to start taking chances.
WHITNEY: Nothing really changed for us. Guys realized that you get warm and everything can change quickly, because 2-0 is not a safe lead. We continued to play hard.
KESLER: The one thing with that team is we always believed. We came back, and we could score. We were kind of naive that way, but we had confidence, we knew we could do it.
Five minutes later, Kesler did do just that, working a give-and-go with Kane that resulted in Kesler tipping the puck past Luongo to get Team USA back into the game – down 2-1.
NASH: For us, we started sitting back. It’s just something that happens.
After a wide-open second period that saw the teams combine for 30 shots, things settled slightly in the third period. Canada had its chances, but Miller, as he had been all game, was there to keep the U.S. within a goal.
WHITNEY: He was the perfect backbone. He was in such a groove that if there was any breakdown, he was there to bail us out. And it wasn’t just first saves, it was rebounds, it was second and third chances. I don’t want to speak for Ryan Miller, but I think that was the most locked-in he ever was in his career.
KESLER: He was unreal. He was a huge part of our tournament’s success, along with a lot of other guys. But that was the best I’ve ever seen him play.
HITCHCOCK: We played so well in the third period, we just couldn’t stretch the lead out. And that makes you a little nervous, because you feel like you deserved more. But I’ve looked back at that game, and we played really well in that period.
With Miller pulled for an extra attacker, Team USA began circling the Canadian net with less than 30 seconds remaining. Joe Pavelski grabbed a loose puck in the corner and made a quick pass to Kane, who spun around with a shot that hit Langenbrunner’s skate in front of the Canadian net. Parise, a beast all tournament for the Americans, was right next to Langenbrunner, and he popped the puck past a sprawling Luongo to tie the game 2-2.
WHITNEY: I don’t remember much, other than going crazy and almost blacking out.
Mike asked me, ‘what should we talk about with them?’ I said, ‘I don’t think we need to’
– Ken Hitchcock, Team Canada
HITCHCOCK: We played our best when we played like we were down a goal. We’d have a heavy forecheck, and we were really dynamic. But they had players who had bite, guys like Parise who were at the top of their game. They were having a major impact and we had to consider that.
WHITNEY: He was a man on a mission. That was some of the best hockey Zach ever played. He definitely has that super-skilled grinder feel to his game. He’s always in your face, always forechecking, but he’s also super-skilled.
DOUGHTY: I just remember a big celebration from him. Obviously, it was a big goal. I was watching from the bench, and I can still kind of picture it going in. It was heartbreaking at the time, but we’re Team Canada, and we always believe we’re going to win. We never doubted it for a second.
The gold-medal was game headed to overtime. Would there be another Miracle on Ice for Team USA? Would Canada experience another gutting extra-time loss, like in 1998? In the Canadian room, the most experienced players took over: Pronger and Niedermayer.
PRONGER: As we got into the bigger games, with a lot of the younger guys lacking experience at that Olympic level, Scotty and I had been there in 2006, I had been there in 2002 and 1998, and we were together for the Stanley Cup in Anaheim. We had a good yin and yang together in Anaheim. You try to be genuine. You get comfortable, and you see what you need to do. The first week, the team is trying to find chemistry, and once you settle in the team molds together. You look in the room at the players around you, the players next to you. We knew we had the guys to do it. (Luongo) was gonna shut the door in net and we were going to get that goal. It was a matter of us just finishing the job. Scotty’s a deep thinker. He’s not boisterous, but when he speaks, guys listen. He had four Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe, he had the resume. I’m talking about not worrying about them scoring, then Scotty comes in and says, “Get your bowl, get after it.” Someone’s going to score the goal.
PERRY: We were pretty positive in the room. With them scoring with 24 seconds left, it was a blow, but those guys (Pronger and Niedermayer) had been through everything before. They had won every championship you could think of. It was very calming.
NASH: It’s an emotional rollercoaster. You’re a minute away from achieving your goal for your country, and then you have all these ups and downs. But guys stayed even keel. I don’t remember anyone standing up and giving a crazy speech. It was just, stay calm, don’t pass up any shots. You had a bunch of different leaders chiming in. It’s fun to see everyone’s competitive spirit when you’re going into overtime. There’s a reason these guys are leaders, and you get to see how they handle the pressure. There was no panic. It’s almost like we knew what would happen, we just had to put the work in.
BRODEUR: I wasn’t playing, so I was walking around talking to the trainers. It was a lot of pressure on everybody. Usually in these moments, it’s pretty rare for someone to be “rah rah rah.” Everybody was calm, everybody was focused. You could tell we were on a mission. When you have game-breaking players like Sidney Crosby and some of the other guys we had, you just had the feeling someone would do it for you.
HITCHCOCK: The coach’s room and the player’s room was the same before the game and before overtime. The older leaders had taken over the room in a good way, especially a couple of the older defensemen, Pronger and Niedermayer. It was a calming influence for everyone. They were very vocal before and during the game. After the third period, Mike (Babcock) asked me, “What should we talk about with them?” And I said, “I don’t think we need to say anything, it’s already being said.” The confidence from those guys was unmistakable. They provided us with the focus and direction to follow.
Over in the U.S. dressing room, opportunity was knocking.
WHITNEY: You really start thinking this is our time and we’re going to get this done. And getting it done in Canada was on your mind. It would be so cool to pull off one of the greatest upsets ever.
KESLER: When you have two teams going head to head like that, you need everybody at the top of their game, you really can’t zero in on one guy. You have to focus on everyone, and you need a good game plan. We all knew it was one shot and anybody’s game.
Though Canada outshot the U.S. in overtime, Luongo still had to make some key stops, most notably an early chance that saw defenseman Jack Johnson thread a clever pass to the dangerous Phil Kessel, who tested Luongo with a sharp-angle shot.
BRODEUR: Luongo played a solid game. It’s tough when you play these games and you’re expected to win all the time, you get scrutinized a lot. I thought he did a good job under pressure for the first time really, with action like that. A lot of pressure in front of his hometown in Vancouver.
HITCHCOCK: We were much more comfortable 5-on-5 because we knew how well we played in that scenario, but in 4-on-4 overtime, nobody had control of anything. It was such a frenetic pace. In overtime, everything was up.
At 12:37 of extra time, Team USA got another golden opportunity when Niedermayer uncharacteristically coughed up the puck to Pavelski in the defensive zone. Pavelski unleashed a quick shot that Luongo snagged, but did not freeze. Instead, he gave the puck back to Niedermayer, who passed it out of the zone to Crosby. The young Penguins superstar picked up speed through the neutral zone but lost control of the puck when he ran into a phalanx of Americans just inside the blueline. The rest is history.
CROSBY: I carried it in, and the puck was poked away from me around the top of the circle. Then we skated into the corner after it, and I tried to skate it up the boards and got kind of held up. It happened pretty quick. The puck was just in the corner. It got caught up. I think a ref was there. There were a few of us, maybe three or four of us, in a small area. I just kind of poked it to the corner. Jarome (Iginla) got it. I called for it and jumped to the net. He passed it to me. I don’t even really think I picked my head up. I think I just kind of let it go quick from around the dot and it found its way in.
KESLER: It was unfortunate we got a bad bounce and it went right to their player. It’s one mistake, one bounce. That’s the way it is.
DOUGHTY: I was going back-side. There was a little bit of a scramble on the boards, and I think Iginla got it to Sid and I was going off back-side ready in case a rebound came my way, but it went in, so I was one of the first ones to get to Sid. I had a great view of the whole thing. Something you’ll never forget.
WHITNEY: It even took the crowd a second to know it went in. It was kind of like Patrick Kane’s Cup-winning goal in 2010. We interviewed Sid on Spittin’ Chiclets (Whitney’s podcast) about it, and he was saying that he used to practise that off-angle shot.
BRODEUR: Where I’m sitting, I couldn’t really see him. He was completely in the corner and everybody got up on the bench, so I wasn’t too sure what was going on. Next thing you know, the puck is in the net and we all jumped on the ice to celebrate.
NASH: I could tell it was in from Ryan Miller’s reaction. I think I was the first over the boards and the first to jump into the pile.
WHITNEY: I just remember silence. Frustration and devastation. But it didn’t take long to think about the amazing run we had. A silver medal is still quite the accomplishment, even if it’s not what you set out to achieve.
Crosby’s goal secured gold for Canada, giving the hockey world an iconic celebration photo in the process. Though the Canadians had won gold before at the Olympics with NHL players, this one at home was extra-special and set off a wave of parties across the nation.
NASH: It was unbelievable. The controlled emotion we had to have…it was fun downplaying the pressure to the media before the tournament. In the room, we knew Canada only wanted one color of medal. It felt like a huge weight off our shoulders. We could see all the celebrations happening across Canada on TV in the dressing room. That’s our sport. It was tough the way things had finished in Italy, finishing sixth or seventh, so it was great to bring the gold back.
HITCHCOCK: I couldn’t stop laughing. We played, we won, we saw our families at Canada House, and then we went home. We’re all getting on planes and then you’re getting into a cab at 6 a.m. and everyone else in the country is still partying. It was a strange, eerie feeling.
PRONGER: As the tournament went on, we got better. The last game was our best game.
PERRY: It was pretty special. The TV was on in the dressing room and we could see Yonge Street in Toronto was packed. All over the country there were places like that, too. It was pretty overwhelming, but that’s what Canada is. It’s hockey.