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Canadian gold on ice

Posted: Monday, February 25, 2002

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- The Maple Leaf dollar buried in America's home ice turned out to be a golden omen for Canada.

The Canadians finally ended an agonizing 50-year wait for the Olympic gold medal in their national sport, beating the United States as Jarome Iginla and Joe Sakic each scored twice in a historic 5-2 victory Sunday.

The loss ended U.S. coach Herb Brooks' quest to lead a second gold-medal winning team 22 years after the famous ''Miracle on Ice'' with a group of college players.

Maybe it was because the Americans really didn't have the home-ice advantage.

As the Edmonton Oilers' ice specialists made the surface at the E-Center rink, they sank a loonie -- a golden Canadian dollar coin -- into it for good luck.

''I dug it up and we're going to give it to the Hockey Hall of Fame,'' Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky said.

Remarkably, Canada's gold came 50 years to the day an amateur team called the Edmonton Waterloo Mercurys won the nation's last Olympic gold. In 1998, Canada easily won its first four games, only to be eliminated by eventual champion Czech Republic.

The Canadians' victory ended the U.S. men's team 70-year unbeaten streak on Olympic home ice -- three days after the American women's team also lost to Canada in the final.

''We took a lot of inspiration from how the women's team played,'' defenseman Chris Pronger said.

Paul Kariya and Iginla scored less than four minutes apart in the first period as Canada seized the lead after falling behind 1-0. Brian Rafalski tied it in the second period after the Americans killed off a two-man advantage, but Canada regained the lead on Sakic's goal later in the period.

In the third, Iginla redirected Steve Yzerman's shot from the left point with just under four minutes left to increase Canada's lead, then Sakic added his second goal.

Right then, Gretzky, the dominant figure in Canadian hockey for a quarter-century, jumped up wildly in his private box, pumping his fists and waving his arms.

Canada's pursuit of the gold medal mesmerized Canadians, with the CBC predicting the afternoon game would draw the largest TV audience in the nation's history -- not just for sports, but for any event.

''You don't know what it's like to have a piano on your back. No other team had more pressure than ours,'' defenseman Al MacInnis said. ''Everybody in Canada was watching with the same intensity that we played the game with. It's amazing the way a sport can bring the country together.''

The American loss came despite goals by Tony Amonte and Brian Rafalski, and was the first for the United States in 25 Olympic games (21-1-3) on U.S. ice since a 2-1 loss to Canada in 1932. Brooks had been 10-0-2 in Olympic games.

''We would have loved to win, but if we couldn't, there's nobody better to do it,'' U.S. forward Jeremy Roenick said. ''We were playing hockey's creators.''

Shortly after the game ended, Canada captain Mario Lemieux hugged Brooks, a scout for the Lemieux-owned Pittsburgh Penguins.

''It probably was a good time to ask for a raise,'' Brooks said.

Just as Brooks' team did in its 4-2 victory over Finland for the gold in Lake Placid in 1980, the United States trailed by a goal going into the third period. This time, the Americans had no answer for Canadian goalie Martin Brodeur, who was playing behind Curtis Joseph when the tournament began.

Brodeur turned aside 31 shots to outduel Mike Richter, who made the more spectacular saves but could not halt a succession of Canadian odd-man rushes in the first two periods. Brodeur is the son of Denis Brodeur, the team photographer who was the goalie on Canada's bronze-medal winning team in 1956.

The gold was redemption for Gretzky, who got a post-game call on the ice from Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien. Gretzky drew heavy criticism when Canada was routed 5-2 in its Olympic opener by Sweden, then barely beat Germany.

After that, Canada had an easy route to the final, beating only Germany, Finland and Belarus, while the Americans twice played bronze medalist Russia.

''Getting smoked by Sweden probably was a good thing, because we knew we had to get better,'' Sakic said.

They did, helping to create the kind of riveting, intense game the NHL was hoping for when it sent its players to the Olympics for the first time four years ago.

Canada scored as many goals -- five -- as the Americans' first five opponents and controlled the Mike Modano-Brett Hull line that had produced nine goals and 10 assists in five Olympic blame.

After both Brooks and Canada coach Pat Quinn predicted a low-scoring game, Tony Amonte's goal in the first period looked huge. But Kariya answered just over six minutes later, one-timing Chris Pronger's cross-ice pass.

Iginla, the Calgary Flames' star and NHL scoring leader, made it 2-1 with about a minute left in the first. As Sakic's shot from the left circle arrived wide of the net, Iginla craftily put down his stick blade to direct it past Richter, the star of the 1996 World Cup upset of Canada.

The game's key moment seemed to come when the Americans, frantically trying to get the momentum back, killed off a Canadian 5-on-3 advantage lasting 1:08 midway through the second period, with Lemieux fanning on a wide-open shot at the side of the net.

That gave the Americans a big lift, and Rafalski scored on a power play. But Roenick drew a tripping penalty that led to the biggest goal, Sakic's shot through Richter's pads toward the end of the second period.

''Maybe,'' Roenick said, ''they're just destined to win it every 50 years.''



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