The Good Ol' Hockey Game
So the reason I was in Montreal was to catch the Canada-USA and Canada-Slovakia World Cup of Hockey games. My buddy Jason tipped me off to the games about four or five months ago, and having endured Canada's humiliating 5-2 loss to the USA in the gold-medal rubber match in person while a sophmore in Montreal, I figured two more games in La Belle Ville at the end of summer would be a fantastic time.
I wasn't incorrect.
Hockey aside, the weather was unreal, Ribs and I caught Greg Maddux at the Big O, and I met up with some very good friends, including Becky (a good friend who I hadn't expected to see as she's living in Kingston), Montreal residents Matt, Emily, and eBri, and Andrew (one of my Scandinavian travel companions) who came down from his cottage for the games.
The hockey was tremendous. The atmosphere in the Bell Center was positively electric before the USA game. Both teams must have felt the energy in the arena, because the game was spirited and chippy, even featuring a fight (something rarely seen in national tournaments with mostly skill players). The Canadians came out playing flowing, aggressive hockey and took the game to the US, beating them 2-1 while thoroughly outplaying them.
The highlight of the night, victory aside, was when Wayne Gretzky walked across the catwalk that hung in front of us up in the nosebleeds. As he moved from the left of our seats to the right (some 100 feet or so), a standing ovation and chant of "Gretz-ky! Gretz-ky!" followed. He acknowledged the crowd with a slight wave, which capped the night off perfectly. It's great to see a sports GM so into the game that he also seems to be a fan, cheering when his team scores, and dropping f-bombs of pure joy like he did in Salt Lake when Canada scored the insurance goal in the gold-medal game.
The passion and energy of the fans in the building reminded me of the semi-final game in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, when Canada played the Czech Republic. I was a floor fellow at McGill University at the time, and people would often hang out, watch TV, drink, play vids, etc. in a room which was attached to my bedroom and which functioned as the floor's common room. The semi-final game started at 4 or 5am Eastern, and I had opened up the room and woken up many of the people on my floor who wanted to watch. About 10 people trundled in half-asleep with blankets and pillows in tow to watch. It was a cold, wintery Montreal night, and the glow of the TV illuminated the faces of both those watching raptly and those struggling to stay awake.
The game was a goalie duel for the ages, with Canada's Patrick Roy and the Czech Republic's Dominik Hasek making save after save, until the Czechs scored about halfway into the third to go up 1-0. By this time, everybody in my room was awake and the tension kept mounting until Canada's Trevor Linden scored with about a minute left in regulation to tie it up. My room exploded in cheers of relief and joy, stoked that the game was still winnable. I'll never forget Jose, the Bermudan dude on my floor, who walked into my room shortly after, rubbing his eyes and wondering what the hell was causing the ruckus that woke him up. The best part was that Jose's room was about five rooms down and one hallway over from Hockey Central in McConnell Hall that night.
Good times. The game against Slovakia wasn't really challenging (Canada won, 5-1), although the six hour drive to West Hartford after the game was a little more so. One notable point--the Canadians and Slovakians lined up on the blue lines after the game and shook hands, while the Americans left the ice first after losing to the Canadians without shaking hands. This will likely be the last International tournament for US stars Chris Chelios, Keith Tkachuk, Mike Modano, and others, and I say good riddance. We've seen them be jerks before; we don't need them or their poor sportsmanship around any longer.