The last "where were you when" moment I can remember happened almost 9 years ago in 2001... on Sunday, February 28th, 2010, we collectively experienced another. Thankfully, this time it was positive in nature.
Everyone has a story to tell when recapping their 2010 Olympic experience, so I figured I'd share mine, with special emphasis on the Men's Hockey tournament.
At the outset of the Games, I was, like millions of others around me, nervous. Canada's entry into the Olympic quest for Gold was formidable, but so were those of many other countries. I figured that with Brodeur in net and Crosby putting the puck behind opposing goalies, we couldn't lose.
I was at least somewhat accurate in my prediction.
Brodeur underachieved in his two games, one a 3-2 shootout victory over Switzerland, a country that has given Canadian hockey fits ever since blanking the dominant nation at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy. Brodeur was downright dazzling in the shootout, but was still criticized for being overagressive while playing the puck - something that every hockey fan wanted him to do when the tournament began.
In the team's third game against a youthful, determined American squad, Brodeur's puckhandling would come to the forefront when a "home run" puck, struck out of midair by the stalwart netminder was picked off by his former Devils teammate Brian Rafalski en route to a soft goal on a shot along the ice. Even though there was lots of game left and the score was only 2-1 for the USA, Brodeur's tournament was over.
Head coach Mike Babcock chose to ride hometown favourite Roberto Luongo the rest of the way, and I was not the only one to notice how quickly a hockey-mad nation seemed to have forgotten about all of Brodeur's achievements, dedication and success while wearing our Maple Leaf over the years... consider this quote from Ron Wilson (Coach, Team USA & Toronto Maple Leafs):
"The biggest surprise to me is how everybody threw Marty Brodeur, the greatest goalie in the history of the game under the bus and backed over him, and forward, backward, forward, backward. It's the greatest goalie that's ever played and it almost tarnished his career on one night. He didn't have a good night, but part of that had to do with how well we pressured them."
The torch had been passed, and after Canada easily dismantled Germany in a qualification game, the dream matchup of the tournament materialized... however it did not live up to its billing as a hard fought and equally contested game. Canada's team oriented, physical game was overwhelming, and proved too much for a star studded Russian side, which fell by the wayside, demoralized and disgraced after a 7-3 loss at the hands of our guys. Canadian hockey fans were jubilant and quite overconfident going into the semi-finals.
Much of the country switched over to short track speed skating when the Canadian team stormed out to a 3-0 lead over Slovakia, only to return to see the score at 3-2 with seconds to go. Roberto Luongo made the save of the tournament with seconds left, sending Canada into the Final - a rematch with the Americans that had destiny written all over it.
I was downtown Toronto on Sunday with a couple of friends - we searched frantically for a spot to take in the game. A 7 kilometre marathon ended near Front & Sherbourne St.'s when we were seated at the last table in a packed house. Then we watched.
It was clear from puck drop that everyone watching had his/her soul riding on the game's outcome. Total strangers chatted, cheered and basked in the pride we all felt - we were together in person and in spirit. Jonathan Toews scored in the first, sending a country into a frenzy. When Corey Perry made it 2-0 minutes into the second, dreams started to come true... and 30,000,000 pairs of eyes began to watch the clock... too soon.
The USA would score to make it 2-1, and with just 24 seconds left, Devils hero and now USA hockey legend Zach Parise scored off of a goalmouth scramble, tying the game and ruining thirty million lives.
Canadians find a way, though. Even at our lowest point, we forged friendships, toasted to the achievements of our athletes and took in the moment, hoping that our optimism and combined sense of togetherness and belonging would be enough to keep our guys going. Headed into overtime, we believed.
Seemingly out of nowhere and posessed by the spirit of Canada, Sidney Crosby raced from the bench with the puck in tow, attempting to split four defenders before spilling into the corner. Here was our savior, our hero; the embodiment of our love for the game of hockey and for our country. Crosby would not be denied, and when he fired a no-look laserbeam of a shot through the pads of tourmanent MVP Ryan Miller, bedlam broke out nation-wide.
Sidney Crosby proved to us that the Olympic Flame burns from within, and the unbelievable and overwhelming outporing of emotion displayed by Canadians worldwide following his goal was something that I had never before seen or experienced.
Within minutes, thousands of people were in the streets of downtown Toronto. Major intersections turned into regulated party-zones. 20 minutes after Crosby and the rest of his Canadian teammates (all 36 million of us!) had Gold around their necks, tens of thousands of people had descended upon Dundas Square, forming a cheering mob of red and white.
In times of doubt or hardship, we must think back to times such as these for inspiration and proof that we are not alone but united. The 2010 Winter Olympics brought us all together - the country and the world as one, sharing in and reacting to some of the greatest athletic achievements on record, and I will always remember where I was and how it feels to be Canadian in one of our country's greatest hours.