Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Olympic Game

What a way to cap off a long weekend. Yesterday, Legs and I had dinner at Samakhan, a decent -- though pricey -- Indian restaurant in Seohyeon*, afterwards returning home to pop the cork on a bottle of Chardonnay I'd bought her for her birthday and to sit down and watch The Fantastic Mr. Fox**. The movie ended at nine o'clock; I went upstairs to sleep just before ten. Why so early, you ask? I had to get up before five a.m. to watch the men's Olympic ice hockey final, of course.

Thing is, though, I couldn't sleep. I thought the wine would help, but due to sleeping in until nearly eleven yesterday morning and my anticipation for the big game, the Sandman eluded me. I tossed and turned for two hours, occasionally falling into some weird, semi-delirious half-sleep. At midnight I went downstairs, turned on the TV, and tried to a) find something to hold my interest during my insomnia or b) be lulled to sleep by late-night-television mediocrity. I found myself on middle ground between the two, and at one o'clock I went back upstairs, determined to get as precious few hours of sleep as I could. It's a holiday here in Korea, but, unfortunately, it's not one for me. FML.

Miracle of miracles, around two or so I was able to drift off and catch some much-needed REM sleep. When I awoke just after four, however, I knew that was all the sleep I would get. The puck was set to drop at 5:15, and I had to prepare myself mentally -- or as well as I could on such short rest -- for the game.

I smoked a square, drank some cola, read and reread numerous previews of the game from both Canadian and American perspectives, considered trying to find an Internet feed of CTV's broadcast, then decided against it. No interruptions, no hiccups. I would watch the game on SBS in glorious HD.

From the get go, it was clear this was going to be a close game. Canada had home-ice advantage, and its Olympic team passes and handles the puck better than any team in the tournament. They also play gritty, grind-it-out hockey better than anyone. But the US has one hell of a brick wall in goalie Ryan Miller, and they're more of a threat on the open ice.

That Team Canada scored first in the opening period off of Jonathan Toews rebound brought a small sigh of relief. Canada had to score the opening goal. What do you know, for the first time in the tournament, Team USA was trailing.

When Corey Perry extended the lead to 2-0 midway through the 2nd, it was certainly more-comfortable breathing room. I knew the game was still up for grabs, but that's when my earliest thoughts of Olympic-gold glory started to creep into my head.

I pushed them back.

Relax, Sparkles, I told myself. A 2-0 lead halfway through the second period is no reason to start celebrating. There's plenty of time left for the Americans to get back into this thing. Don't count your chickens before they hatch***.

Five minutes later, Ryan Kesler reminded me of that in real life.

But Team Canada held onto its lead for the remainder of the period and most of the third. With only minutes left, cameras showed a sea of berserk, red-clad Team Canada fans inside and out of the temporarily dubbed Canada Hockey Place ready to erupt in national sports ecstasy.

It wasn't to be. With twenty-four seconds remaining and a six-to-five-men advantage, Team USA crowding in front of the Canadian goal in desperation, Zach Parise caught a break and slipped the equaliser past Roberto Luongo.

Oh, no. Oh god, no. This can't be happening. We were so close. Now we have to go into sudden-death overtime, four-on-four, against this feisty team and their momentum? I think I'm going to be sick to my stomach. This is too much.

That's what I thought. What I said was much briefer: Fuck.

Is there anything in any sport more intense than sudden-death overtime when a championship or gold medal is on the line? When the puck was dropped to begin the extra period, I couldn't have held a pencil if you had placed one in my hand. My heart was bounding in my chest like Jason Statham's in Crank.

It's patently obvious that Canadians take ice hockey far more seriously than citizens of every other nation. I won't bore you to death with an essay on just how intensely passionate we feel about about it, or why, but know this: had Canada lost, no Canadian would ever be able to forget it. And it wouldn't have been because we lost to the US, at least not for me. I would have felt equally depressed had the loss come against Russia, Finland, or any of the other nations competing in the tournament. Canada could absolutely not afford to lose, in the sport we invented, on home ice in the gold-medal game. It would have been a tragedy in the most literal sense of the word. Canadians would remember it for decades in ignominious sadness the same way some Americans feel about JFK's assassination. Comparatively, that's bugshit irrational, but the analogy still stands. Nobody ever said Canadians were rational when it comes to hockey.

As you all know by now, Sid the Kid was able to avert disaster seven minutes and forty seconds into overtime in a game that instantly became part of Canadian hockey lore, right up there with the Summit Series in '72 and the Canada Cup in '87.

Referring to Kim Yu-Na's short program, last Wednesday I wrote, "as great as the Korean athletes have performed, there's one gold medal with more significance attached to it than the rest combined. No hyperbole: even a silver medal in women's figure skating would be a tremendous blow to the nation's pride." Well, switch "Korean" with "Canadian" and "women's figure skating" with "men's ice hockey" and you have something eerily similar, the difference being that Korea had no history of figure skating before these Games, while hockey is Canada's oxygen.

Breathe easy, Canadians.


One more thing:

Leading up to the game, I talked some trash to my American friends, in person and on Facebook, but I want to say something sincerely: Team USA were never underdogs. You proved that by beating our squad 5-3 exactly one week ago, and you proved it again today. It was an extremely hard-fought instant classic. The nail-bitingest of nail-biters. I probably wouldn't be writing this tonight had Team Canada lost (I'd be sobbing like an inconsolable baby, seriously contemplating changing my nationality), but I would have eventually. Your squad deserves it.

See you in Sochi.

* Samakhan's interior -- minus the large video screen playing Backstreet Boys videos -- is very nice, but Thali, also in Seohyeon, is cheaper and serves better food. Take your girlfriend there for White Day, fellas. Their tandoori chicken is to die for.

** I'll probably put up a review tomorrow night. Which means I probably won't. Regardless, it's absolutely terrific.

*** Fittingly, the voice in my head was not my own but that of Chicken Wire, who, I found out too late, stayed up all night to see the game. If I had known he was awake and watching live, I definitely would have initiated a text-message flame fest.

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