July 2, 2003.
The day Vancouver, British Columbia, was awarded the XXI Olympic Winter Games, beating out Pyeongchang, South Korea by only three votes.
It was also the same day when Canadians everywhere started dreaming of scenarios the Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team would be in. Gold medal champions, of course.
It was still fresh in everyone’s mind; just over a year earlier, during the Salt Lake City Winter games, the Canadian men’s hockey team captured their first gold medal in 50 years, beating the United States 5-2.
There was no reason, then, not to believe they couldn’t repeat a gold performance again during the 2006 Turin Winter games and then again at the 2010 Vancouver Winter games.
It seemed almost too good to be true. Canadians believed that a page had been turned and it was finally their time to once again reclaim their rightful spot atop the hockey world.
From 1956 right up until 1998, which saw 12 different Winter Olympics, Canada only managed to win two bronze and three silver medals in men’s hockey. Not something worth glorifying for the self-proclaimed hockey capital of the world.
But seeing as Canada somehow managed to overcome that hurdle in 2002, there was no reason not to think why Canada couldn’t win three straight gold medals at the Winter Olympics, and what better way to cap that off then by winning on home soil in Vancouver.
It was a dream scenario for humbled Canadians everywhere to show the world they’re No. 1.
But then Turin 2006 happened.
During the round robin games, Canada managed to avoid hitting rock bottom by losing 2-0 to both Finland and Switzerland, but still placing third in Group A. In the Quarter Finals, they hit that bottom against the Russians, where they also lost 2-0.
And just like that the dream was over. With an early exit from the Olympics, Canada ended up placing seventh out of 12 teams.
Canadians woke up to the harsh reality that maybe they really weren’t the best at men’s hockey. Some will call it blasphemous, others call it reality.
For the last four years, ask any Canadian what’s been on their mind when they think of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, and the overwhelming majority of them will tell you it’s all about men’s hockey gold. Anything else is a failure to this country.
With all due respect for all the other Canadian athletes who have trained hard over the last four plus years, you deserve only the best and have Canada’s full support. However, at the end of the day the one thing still on everyone’s mind is men’s ice hockey.
Canada could literally take home every gold, silver and bronze medal, but if the men’s hockey team does not win gold, then it will all be for nothing and the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics will be deemed a failure by most Canadians.
Likewise, Canada could lose in everything, but if the men’s hockey team won the gold medal then the Olympics would be a success.
Is it fair? No. But it’s the reality in Canada. Remember, this is the same Canada that worshiped a loonie after winning in 2002.
When a Canadian athlete wins gold, Canadians are proud and we congratulate them accordingly.
However, anyone who was in Canada on February 24, 2002, the day the men’s hockey team won gold, you’d know that there’s an overwhelming difference between Canadians winning gold and Canada’s men’s hockey team winning gold.
Men’s gold medal skeleton or women’s gold medal curling will have many Canadians watch and cheer, no doubt. But it won’t have viewers glued to their television sets, or filling up restaurants and bars like the men’s gold medal hockey game will.
And because of this, if Canada does not win gold in men’s hockey, then every day since July 2, 2003 will be almost for nothing. Canadians can live with being second-best at everything, as long as it’s not hockey.
And thus for the last four years, it has been a topic debated to death from TSN newsrooms to Tim Horton’s coffee shops and everywhere else in between throughout Canada: Who will be on the 2010 Olympic squad and will Canada win gold?
One of those two questions has already been answered. Now it’s time to see if the second question is a Salt Lake City dream, or a Turin nightmare.