I’ll admit it: I was happy when Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby scored his famous “Golden Goal” to give Canada the Olympic men’s hockey crown four years ago in Vancouver.
I was also sad about a missed opportunity for Team USA to further capture the nation’s attention with its first men’s hockey gold since 1980, but really the silver they took home was a pleasant surprise for a program in transition.
That wasn’t the case for the Canadians, who would’ve been ridiculed endlessly for not taking the top prize on familiar ice. The home team led 2-1 deep into the third period, but American forward Zach Parise forced sudden-death overtime with a goal in the final minute of regulation, exacerbating the pressure.
But then Crosby snapped a Jarome Iginla pass between USA goalie Ryan Miller‘s legs and a nation celebrated. I was disappointed that my county was denied the gold, but my most overriding emotion was joy that Crosby came through in the biggest moment, proving his worth to Canada.
This time, my feelings are quite different. Crosby and Canada have gotten theirs, and now it’s our turn south of the 49th parallel. In fact, the Canadians have edged the Americans for men’s hockey gold in two of the past three Olympic tournaments, with Mario Lemieux serving as the victorious Captain Canuck in 2002 at Salt Lake City.
Now another transcendent Penguins talent is trying to squelch American dreams. And, unlike in 2010 when only Brooks Orpik represented Pittsburgh on Team USA, fellow defenseman Paul Martin is part of the effort guided by head coach Dan Bylsma, acting general manager Ray Shero, assistant coach Tony Granato and other Pens support staff.
No offense to Crosby and Chris Kunitz, who should be on Canada’s top line for Friday’s noon Eastern faceoff, but I’m confident nearly every Penguins fan will be unconflicted in his or her rooting interest.
That being said, it’s difficult to turn against the players we watch year in and year out, even if it’s a temporary arrangement. We don’t pay much attention to where athletes come from when they pull on the home uniform. That’s one of sports’ main selling points.
International competition muddles that. The first time NHL players competed in the Olympics, four Penguins won gold for the Czech Republic: Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang, Martin Straka and Jiri Slegr. My 12-year-old self was pulling hard for that quartet, to the point that I still have some affection for any Czech hockey team that takes the ice.
But that empathy didn’t come into play Wednesday when the United States downed the Czechs 5-2 in the quarterfinal round, just like any good feelings I have toward Crosby and Kunitz will fade into the background for Friday’s matchup at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi.
In almost every way imaginable, a gold medal for Team USA would be more impactful than a second consecutive Canadian tour de force.
Once is enough, Sid.