Last night, before a record crowd in Kanata, Canada’s world junior team won the gold against Sweden in a game that ended 5-1 but remained competitive until the final period with two runaway goals in the closing minutes.
Earlier, the tournament hosted one of the best games I’d seen in my life as Canada scratched back a 3-0 deficit against the US to score the next four goals and even two empty netters at the end to win 7-4. The other game which saved Canada was against Russia where our country bested theirs scoring the tying goal in the dying seconds of the third period followed by a shootout win after a gripping though scoreless overtime.
The games always capture the attention of hockey fans looking to do their own scouting of the sport, identifying future prospects and looking for surprise heroes. Canada’s Angelo Esposito – to name one such example – played the tournament with heart. The junior from Woodbridge Ontario scored the game winning goal yesterday and delivered night after night despite having been cut from the team for three years consecutive prior to this opportunity. Or take Dustin Tokarski, team Canada’s goalie and game MVP in the gold medal match, the kid was nowhere near the top of any scout’s list before the start of this tournament. For an event that showcases upcoming talent for Canada’s national game, this tournament didn’t disappoint.
Hockey games usually provide photo-ops for Canadian politicians to awkwardly rub shoulders with “every day” Canadians and pretend to show interest in the game that the rest of us plebs know and love. However Stephen Harper, a man with an interest that could be described as a genuine but fanatical love of the game (maintained by his trademark calm) was there not only for the gold medal game, but most of team Canada’s games during the entire tournament. As for photo-ops, our country’s leader looked at ease with a shirt-less gold-painted-with-Canada-logo-on-chest superfan as he gave thumbs up for a fan photo. The Prime Minister also took the opportunity of hanging out with the team before games in the dressing room. One reporter explained to me that usually such a moment would have racked the nerves of a team. However, for a man at ease in this element, wearing a leather jacket and jeans, having laced skates, taped sticks and socks many times before, the PM was just another hockey dad.
Michael Ignatieff was also in attendance but only for the gold medal game. The Liberal leader and grandson of a a Russian tsarist minister took a break from writing a book on his family history long enough to recognize the tournament and descend to mingle with the masses. Ignatieff had a rare chance of witnessing a Canadian hockey victory while living in Canada – the distinguished academic has been largely abroad since the late 60s. A friend joked that Ignatieff told TSN, “I am a fan of the game of hockey, but not necessarily a hockey fan.” For the two men, Harper and Ignatieff, hockey underscores a vital political strength or weakness. For the Prime Minister, voters select someone they see in themselves and they pick someone who understands and shares their concerns. For Ignatieff, voters will sever him if he cannot genuinely tie himself with the threads that line our hearts.
We’re a nation bound by our love of hockey.