By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (9:20 a.m. EST FEB. 23) – Alright Canada, you can go back to bed. Ho-hum, just another gold medal.
Well, maybe not, but the championship game of the 2014 Winter Olympics was over less than an hour after it began. Jonathan Toews scored the first and only goal Team Canada would need in a remarkably simple 3-0 triumph over Sweden – the losers handicapped without three of their best players, Henrik Zetterberg, Henrik Sedin and Nicklas Backstrom (possibly for a drug-relation violation).
As such, the gold medal game was anti-climactic for a number of reasons: a) Canada either iced its most technically sound team in the NHL Olympics era, or this year’s tournament was the weakest since 1998; b) The toughest game for the champions was a 57-shot barrage against Latvia – kept astonishingly close (1-0) by unheralded goalie Kristers Gudlevskis; c) Canada won the Olympic title nine time zones from eastern North America after doing same on home soil in 2010; d) That game, in Vancouver, went to overtime when Zach Parise of the USA parked a rebound for the tying goal in the last minute of regulation, with Ryan Miller on the bench for an extra attacker. Sidney Crosby then scored the most important goal in Canadian hockey since Paul Henderson 38 years earlier; e) It was Canada’s third gold medal in the past four Winter Games (if such an achievement can ever grow old).
WELL, NOT REALLY… THE GAME WAS OVER ALMOST BEFORE IT STARTED, AS TEAM CANADA ROMPED TO VICTORY OVER SHORT-HANDED SWEDEN. TORONTO SUN IMAGE
Still, there was a time not many years ago in our country when panic-stricken hockey officials were gathering for seminars to determine why Canada had collapsed on the international stage. I vividly remember the blank looks in Nagano, Japan during and after the 1998 Winter Olympics when Patrick Roy, Eric Lindros, Wayne Gretzky and Team Canada could not even win a medal, and when our women’s team lost the finale to its only equal, the Americans. Though junior-aged players across the globe have undoubtedly caught up to our’s, there is no question that Canada is now un-matched in best-on-best “professional” competition and that our ladies have solved their U.S. nemesis, having won three consecutive gold medals at the Winter Games.
All in all, the country that invented hockey stands today without peer – a credit to coaches Mike Babcock (men) and Kevin Dineen (women) for making these Olympics no contest whatsoever.
See you four years from now in PyeongChang, South Korea.
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