Here, friends, is my golden ticket. It was almost on a whim that I clicked the box for the Gold Medal hockey game when I put in my request for tickets for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, and when I checked my credit card bill and saw that my complete order had gone through, well I felt just like Charlie looked when he found his golden ticket into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
And right from the beginning everyone told me I should sell the tickets. People assumed I would be selling them and would then all but insist I sell them when they found out otherwise. For my part, not once did I even remotely consider selling them. Not almost a year before the Olympics, when the tickets first arrived in my mailbox and were already selling for $1500 per ticket on the official Vancouver Olympics website. Not as the date approached and Olympic fever started to take hold, sending the tickets up to $2000 apiece, and certainly not when the world discovered that it would be Canada versus USA vying for Gold, sending the tickets up to a minimum of $3000 per ticket.
Everyone said I was crazy for not selling them. I told them they were the ones who were crazy. I also told them that they were welcome to tell me again and again for years to come how crazy I was for going to the Greatest Hockey Game Ever Played. To date I haven’t heard back from anyone.
February 28th, 2010 started early. M’lady and I awoke in her grandmother’s house in Delta, BC and took the free bus into the city. We boarded the bus near the start of its route and were among the first onboard, but it soon started filling up and everyone was excited and cheering. The whole city was locked into this hockey game and the fever was everywhere, as I suppose it was across the entire country.
With more than an hour to kill after arriving downtown m’lady and did a walkabout. The streets were already thick with people and the excitement was building as the 1pm puck drop approached. You could just feel the energy seeping from the crowd…we soaked it up and started towards the rink.
The parade of smiling faces heading into the venue looked like so many lottery winners lining up to collect their prizes. We we all glowing. Countless stories delivered magical tickets into each one of those hands; we knew we were the envy of our countrymen and we were honoured, thrilled, humbled, and most of all ecstatic to be among the chosen ones. Nobody seemed to be taking the moment for granted as strangers high-fived each other for no reason at all. A pick-up street hockey game had started up along the pathway; the crowd was forced to go around it but most of us stopped and stared with a nostalgic twinkle in our eye and a glow in our heart.
This was our game all right. We all grew up with hockey in one way or another, every single one of us. Some coach once said, “When you play hockey in Canada you play in front of 20,000 hockey experts,” and I’d say he was right. It is the greatest sport the world has created and ours are the best players on the planet. We invented hockey and we have always been the country to beat. Sure, we’ll be all Canadian-polite when we wipe up the ice with the other team, but we will indeed do our best to wipe up the ice with the other team.
All of this was written on each beaming face as we politely waited to go through the metal detectors and open our bags for security.
Inside we found our seats in the very last row behind the home team’s net. I’m so glad we were in the back row because once the game started neither m’lady nor I could sit down, and with nobody seated behind us that was a-okay. How the rest of the crowd remained in their seats throughout the game is truly beyond my comprehension.
(I should add that before, during, and after the game concessions were unnervingly easy to acquire. I was easily six beers in by the time the puck dropped. At one point before the game I went to the mezzanine, grabbed a beer and was back in my seat in about ninety seconds flat.)
The anticipation leading up to the opening faceoff was palpable, and it was loud. With apologies to the astounding players coming out of Scandinavia and Russia, we had here two teams made up of the absolute crème de la crème of hockey athletes the world has ever seen challenging one another for the only prize beyond the Stanley Cup that matters. The Olympic Gold Medal is proof of world domination and it’s steeped in a nationalistic pride that the Stanley Cup finals are unable to deliver.
In short, these players all wanted to win very badly and as for the fans, unlike the NHL playoffs all you had to do was check someone’s passport to know who they were rooting for.
Of course I don’t have to tell you about the game. You watched it, I know you did. We all did.
“What if we lose?!?”M’lady
When we were up two goals to nothing inside the arena felt like an easy-feeling love shack. When the US scored their first goal a wave of stress descended upon the room, and when the game got tied up with about twenty-five seconds remaining the whole crowd inhaled together and created a vacuum in the room that instantly froze our collective souls. M’lady looked at me with a face marked with terror and worry. “What if we lose?!?” she asked me, horrified.
It was a question we were all afraid to confront. To lose would be unthinkable. The tension in the building was searingly unavoidable and the period break before overtime seemed to last for hours.
And then, after nearly eight minutes of hockey bliss and psychological torture I saw the winning goal go in the net right below our seats. With my own eyes I saw that puck hit the back of the net; no tv, no big screen, nothing but air between me and the goal that ended the Greatest Hockey Game Ever Played. It still gives me goosebumps every time I picture it; I am covered with goosebumps as I type this.
I jumped up and down screaming “WE WON THE GOLD MEDAL! WE WON THE GOLD MEDAL!” and I swear to you I could not hear myself at all, not even inside my own head, that’s how loud the crowd was screaming. M’lady and I were hugging each other, everyone within reach was high-fiving and hugging everyone else, for the moment no one was a stranger and the crowd just kept on screaming and screaming and screaming.
It was at least a minute or two before I even found out who had scored the goal, there was just too much celebratory mayhem gushing around to ask someone or get a good look at the replay…I mean people were going bananas like I had never seen or heard before or since. And then I finally saw the replay, and of course it was Sidney Crosby who scored it, calling for a pass from Iginla. The gods of hockey wouldn’t have written it any other way.
But man, the screaming!
Not a word of a lie, the crowd noise kept going at a steady, massive fervour, not letting up for at least a solid ten minutes. Literally, ten minutes. It was a sound-energy that I’ve never imagined before and I doubt I’ll ever experience anything like it again. Maybe it had something to do with the energy coming from outside the building as well. Not only the whole city, but the entire country, the second-largest nation in the world was screaming and celebrating en masse. Expats in time zones around the planet joined in and we all celebrated with one big Canadian heart. It was simply incredible.
And just as we started to calm down a little they rolled out the carpets and handed out the Gold Medals right there on the ice and we all started cheering again.
Out on the street the city was bouncing with celebration. Hoarse voices were breaking out in spontaneous versions of O Canada around every corner. Street after street was packed from sidewalk to sidewalk with the happiest, most satisfied revellers you have ever seen.
The city and the country had just hosted a great Winter Olympics and done ourselves proud in front of the world and we had closed it with an unforgettable win in our most pride-inducing sport against our biggest rivals. It was a celebration to end all celebrations and it capped one of the most exciting and entertaining days of my life.
I ask you, what could I possibly have spent $3000 on that would have even approached this? Honestly.