VANCOUVER — I’ll confess, I was pulling for Canada against the U.S. in a men’s hockey showdown Sunday evening.
No matter. The Americans ended up spoiling a great party.
Call me a traitor, but I wasn’t really rooting against my home country; I was just silently cheering the hosts.
It wasn’t because I grew up in Upper Michigan, 2 1/2 hours from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
It’s wasn’t because my nephew and niece were born in Canada.
It wasn’t that I like Canadian star Sidney Crosby better than U.S. goalie Ryan Miller, who attended Michigan State, my alma mater (because I don’t).
It was because the game meant much more to Canada as a country than it did for the U.S.
Sure, there were a smattering of American flags mixed in to the sea of red at the Canada Hockey Place. And those backing the star-spangled bunch saw their team grab a lead 41 seconds into the game and hold it most of the night despite being outshot 45-23.
But other than for serious hockey fans in the U.S., the 5-3 win — impressively pulled off in an extremely partisan environment —won’t make a great impression on the general public.
Not so in Canada.
“National pride” is why one Canada jersey-wearing couple told me their team needed to win against their border rival on Sunday.
Nearly all of the 19,000 raucous fans in attendance were crushed by Canada’s loss, which clinched Group A for the U.S. and means Canada will need to win a play-in game just to reach the quarterfinals.
Some of those fans reportedly shelled out $2,000 to scalp a ticket.
In addition, half of Canada’s 33 million residents were expected to watch on television.
The victory for the young Americans was its biggest at the Olympics since the Miracle on Ice against Russia 30 years ago today, but it wasn’t exactly must-see television back home.
Of course, a prize much bigger than bragging rights among neighboring countries awaits in the medal round.
The U.S. will need just one more win to get there, and the Canadians two. But while Canadians may grudgingly concede the overall medal tally (at this point, they have no choice because the U.S. has accumulated 24 medals to Canada’s nine), they will accept nothing less than gold in their national sport.
Canada, after all, is credited with inventing the modern game of hockey in 1875.
U.S. coach Ron Wilson still called Canada the best team in the tournament in a post-game press conference, but the Americans kept the crowd from getting too wild and frustrated the more experienced Canucks with stellar goaltending and opportunity offense.
“We’ve just chosen the longer route to where we want to go,” Canada coach Mike Babcock said.
Canadians will get over Sunday’s defeat if four straight wins follow. But if they’re saddled with another loss, many in the nation will mourn.
Contact staff writer Matias Saari at firstname.lastname@example.org.