Sunday, February 24, 2002
Canadians reclaim their game
TORONTO -- It wasn't just the first Olympic gold medal in
men's hockey in 50 years, or the pride in claiming the title of
world's premier hockey nation that set off Sunday's honking,
cheering celebrations across Canada.
It was beating the United States, convincingly, in the final
match of the Olympics that made the moment particularly memorable
for Canadians everywhere.
The 5-2 victory, almost certainly watched by the largest
television audience in Canadian history, provided a new generation
with a memory like the one their elders have held for three decades
-- since Paul Henderson's last-minute goal clinched the 1972 Summit
Series against the Soviet Union.
"I'm not going to forget this day. You couldn't want anything
more," shouted Bradley Fletcher, 36, in a jam-packed Sports Cafe
in Toronto. "It's not really about hockey. It's about Canada and
the United States. We're Americanized, but this is our game. It's
our one last vestige of what we are."
Out on the streets, an impromptu parade of honking vehicles,
filled or surrounded by flag-waving celebrants, clogged traffic,
but nobody seemed to mind. Tens of thousands of people had gathered
within an hour after the final whistle.
It was much the same across the country. From Newfoundland to
British Columbia, from southern Ontario to northern Yukon, revelers
counted down the last 30 seconds and then leaped and screamed for
joy wherever they watched.
The General Motors Place in Vancouver was full of thousands of
people who watched on big screens. Others crammed sports bars,
restaurants, living rooms and any other place where there was a
television to watch.
Firefighters at one Ottawa station made a celebratory lap around
the block, sirens and lights blazing.
In Montreal, crowds of celebrants filled the streets, forgetting
any separatist feelings that might exist to cheer the
quintessential Canadian moment. Several fans climbed atop a bus on
Ste-Catherine Street and sprayed the crowd with beer.
"In two golden weeks of triumph, the game that we have always
called our own, that we have shared with the world, has become ours
again," Prime Minister Jean Chretien said in celebrating gold not
only in men's hockey but women's hockey, too.
"In the past two weeks, in homes and schools, at work and at
play, Canadians have once again been united in a way that only
hockey can bring us together," Chretien said. "And their
victories have triggered a nationwide party of celebration."
At Toronto's Sports Cafe, Fletcher almost got doused with beer
when someone toppled his table by celebrating the first Canadian
"This is our 1972," Fletcher said, referring to the Summit
Series in which the first national team comprised of professionals
fought back to defeat the Soviets, then the amateur hockey
powerhouse. "You do not forget a day like this."
Renee Bryant-Valvassori won't forget, because she was the only
one wearing an American flag. She said the hostility was much more
than good-natured ribbing.
"It was brutal," she said.
Still, Bryant-Valvassori, 38, who was born in Waukesha, Wisc.,
"I am so proud," she said of wearing the U.S. flag. "I just
held my head up high."