Golden Goal, 5 years later: Oral history of 2010 Vancouver Olympic hockey final

Puck Daddy

Athletes are conditioned to forget. Make a good play, think about the next one. Make a bad play, don’t think about it and try to succeed the next time.

Because of this, many of the specifics of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Men’s Hockey gold medal game have faded for those who were involved.

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“We’re in a playoff race right now where we’re focused on our games every night,” Ducks captain and then Team Canada forward Ryan Getzlaf said, when queried about what was arguably the greatest hockey game of this current incarnation of NHL players.

“I’m sorry to burst the bubble of the Olympic team but I haven’t even thought about it since then.”

The sights and smells of the game are gone from the players’ collective consciousness from that Vancouver day. But there is one general consensus amongst the men who stepped on the ice at Canada Hockey Place (a.k.a. Rogers Arena) on Feb. 28, 2010 for Canada vs. the United States, a 3-2 Canada OT win:

“It was … maybe one of the greatest games I’ve ever been a part of.” – San Jose Sharks/Team Canada forward Joe Thornton.

“One of the best games I’ll ever play in.” – Anaheim Ducks/Team USA forward Ryan Kesler.

“It was one heck of a hockey game. It was probably the best game I’ve ever played in.” – Anaheim Ducks/Team Canada forward Corey Perry.

Thornton has played in countless international and NHL major competitions. Kesler has played in a Stanley Cup Final. Perry has won a Cup.

With the five-year anniversary of the gold medal game Saturday, we wanted to hear from some of the players involved in this instant classic.

From Team USA, we spoke with Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler and Joe Pavelski. From Team Canada we spoke with Thornton, Sidney Crosby, Perry, Jarome Iginla and Shea Weber.

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 28: Patrick Kane #88 of the United States tosses a puck to the fans during the ice hockey men's gold medal game between USA and Canada on day 17 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 28, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Patrick Kane
VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 28: Patrick Kane #88 of the United States tosses a puck to the fans during the ice hockey men's gold medal game between USA and Canada on day 17 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 28, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Patrick Kane

PRE-GAME BUILD UP

The tournament was supposed to be a coronation for the Canadians. It was a fantastic blend of older stars and younger players. Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Iginla were all near the end of their primes, but strong enough to provide leadership for a younger generation that included Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Drew Doughty.

The Americans were youthful, brash and weren’t given much of a shot because of their inexperience. Names like Patrick Kane, Suter, Dustin Brown, Pavelski and Kesler were ready to jump in and take over for the likes of Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Chris Chelios and Doug Weight. But they weren’t really household names yet.

The United States beat Canada 5-3 in the preliminary round, which shocked the Canadians. This wasn’t supposed to happen, especially on Canada’s home turf. Combined with a shootout win over Switzerland, the Canadians were left wondering if they could secure gold on their home ice.  

Both teams sprinted through the medal round, but the United States looked unbeatable in a 6-1 semifinal drubbing over Finland. Canada? Not so much in a 3-2 win over Slovakia. Though the Canadians had the talent, Coach Ron Wilson had the Americans playing better as a team. And it had Ryan Miller in goal, who had channeled his inner-Jim Craig for much of the tournament.

The gold medal game was at 12:15 p.m. local time on Feb. 28, 2010:

Zach Parise, USA: I saw a lot of the Canadian flags on the way to the arena. There was like a holding area they had people next to the rink right before the game. They were all there. We got there 2 and a half hours early. I feel like they were there four hours early just waiting to get in – the fans. The bus ride was two minutes long. But a lot of nerves before the game.

Ryan Kesler, USA, then with the Vancouver Canucks: I don’t think I was the enemy until I played that game. It is what it is. It’s a hockey game, they’re hockey fans and they’re obviously passionate about their game.

Joe Thornton, Canada: It was just … we were playing really well coming into the final game. We were a confident group. We knew they beat us in the round robin but the round robin doesn’t mean too much. We were playing good hockey and we felt like it was going to be a good game. We knew it was going to be a tough game, but we felt like we could win.

Joe Pavelski, USA: The one thing I’ll always remember is the buzz and energy level that was in Vancouver.

Ryan Suter, USA: We had played Canada earlier in the tournament and beat them. That was definitely a confidence thing for us and we felt confident we could do it again. It’s hard to beat a team two times, that’s for darn sure.

Jarome Iginla, Canada: I remember the atmosphere in the building. It was intense, it was exciting it’s what you think about as an athlete. You want to play in games like that and you dream about the opportunity.

CANADA TAKES A 2-0 LEAD; THE US MAKES IT 2-1 

Just 12:50 into the game, Jonathan Toews struck for Team Canada off a rebound to make it 1-0. Then at the 7:13 mark of the second period, Corey Perry pushed it to 2-0 for the Canadians. The nation cautiously went into full party mode. There was no way that the Americans were going to come back from a two-goal deficit.

Iginla (CAN): It seems to be one of the toughest leads to hold. You feel a little bit better than a one-goal lead, so maybe the sharpness isn’t quite as high and then they get momentum and you’re trying to hold onto a one-goal lead.

Weber (CAN): The tendency is to sit back and try to protect the lead. In those cases you have to keep pushing forward and keep playing, the same way you were to get that two-goal lead.

Parise (USA): We felt like we played a good game, and of course when you’re down 2-0, there’s frustration. Any time you’re in a big game like that and it doesn’t start the way you want, they got one in the first and the second. But we just wanted to keep playing.

But goaltender Roberto Luongo, who had replaced Brodeur for the medal round, was fighting the puck every time it came around his crease. Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was just an off day. He kept it out of his net through more will than anything that day. But he was prone to a mistake, and Kesler made him pay at the 12:44 mark.

Suter (USA): We were down two goals then we were down one

Parise (USA): We thought we were playing pretty well, and then we finally broke through, Kesler scored and from then on it’s kind of nature – they kind of just sat back and tried to protect their lead while we just kept going and going.

Pavelski (USA): The first goal calmed us right back in the game.

Iginla (CAN): I don’t remember each goal. I remember getting out to a lead obviously and then you’re just playing. You’re just trying to … maybe the focus is all in the game or whatever. I couldn’t tell you what periods, when they scored. I remember their last goal, Parise’s goal …

ZACH PARISE SENDS THE GAME TO OT WITH 24.4 SECONDS LEFT

Canada had to milk a lead for the entire third period. That’s a difficult task with a talented American group on the other side.

Patrick Kane’s backcheck with under five minutes left prevented a Crosby breakaway and possibly a backbreaking score.

Pavelski (USA): If they got a third it was a different story.

And then with 24.4 seconds left a mad scramble in front of the net magically sent the puck to Parise’s stick. the New Jersey Devils forward, who notched a career-high 45 goals the year before, buried it past Luongo.  

Parise (USA): For that last minute and a half we got it in, they dumped it out. We got it in, they dumped it out. Then finally we were able to keep it in, and get that goal and send it to OT. It was awesome.

Thornton (CAN): I remember, it was like ‘f—k.’ It was like … you couldn’t wait to get the game over with to start the celebrations and it was just “BAM,” we’re going to have to wait. It was just a really weird feeling because you thought the game was done and then boom and they scored and you had to wait.

Iginla (CAN): My take on it was, first it was disappointing on the bench when he tied it up with that amount of time left. It was disappointing for sure. You’re trying not to watch the clock and countdown the time, but you’re five minutes down and you’re that close to winning the gold medal and winning it in Canada and all of a sudden it just abruptly changes.

Pavelski (USA): We broke through got one, the desperation at the end it was exciting to be a part of. To see it go in and brought everything right back.

It was one of those things, you knew how quiet it was (in the building) but it didn’t matter because we were so excited to tie it up and just kind of finally break through.

Parise (USA): You hoped to keep getting it at the net and keep getting it there. That was kind of our mindset, to wear them down a little bit. I don’t remember what I was thinking. So much excitement … all of a sudden you’re back in the game and have a chance to win the gold medal again. Of course to be that person to score the goal, it’s exciting individually, it was a cool moment.

Suter (USA): Being down and then coming back and tying it up with hardly any time and forcing it to OT was kind of surreal, and it was like ‘we can do this.’

INTERMISSION

The men’s hockey tournament at the 2010 Olympics was full of stress and anxiety for the Canadians and their fans. They were expected to not just win, but dominate. And to be so close to gold, and allowing the Americans back in, could have crushed them.

But they were all professionals in that room, and they knew it was important to stay chill.

Crosby (CAN): I remember (head coach) Mike Babcock came in and said as much as it hurt that they scored the goal, it gave us an opportunity to make it even better for the win. We seemed to have a pretty good mentality going into overtime.

Thornton (CAN): Everybody was just really calm and it was like ‘No problem, we’ll get this done, no big deal at all.’ Just the calmness of the whole room, it was eerie.

The Americans were a little different. The emotion of the goal carried into the dressing room. It created a different type of panic – more like ‘what do we do now?’

Parise (USA): Of course it was excitement, we had new life all of a sudden. It was definitely excitement, but now it was ‘OK… we haven’t played a lot of 4-on-4’ so it was more, ‘How are we going to break out. What’s our forecheck?’ You try to prepare yourself for OT. We didn’t have a lot of time to sit there and enjoy it. We wanted to get the next one.

Weber (CAN): Going into the intermission we just wanted to go into overtime the same way. I think we were doing a lot of good things, and they happened to get a couple of goals and we wanted to make sure we weren’t sitting back.

Kesler (USA): I thought we were going to win.

THE GOLDEN GOAL

In overtime, play went to 4-on-4, which was tough for the Americans. While they were also talented, Canada had some of the top skill players in the world, perfect for the extra open space. Canada out-shot the United States 7-4 in the period.

Pavelski (USA): We came out got some really good chances and had some good looks.

Crosby (CAN): You could see with the way we started OT we were going after it and not sitting back and we handled it the right way. Mike Babcock and (captain) Scott Niedermayer, the way they were so calm, cool through the whole thing was pretty impressive.

And then, hemmed in America’s own zone, referee Bill McCreary got in the way with Brian Rafalski defending Crosby.

Suter (USA): I remember the last goal. The puck went up the wall. It was 4-on-4, it got stuck in the ref’s skates.

Iginla (CAN): I don’t remember it hitting the ref’s skates so much. I’m sure it did. I remember going into the corner to get it.

This stopped the play in its tracks. From that point on it was just give-and-go pond hockey.

Suter (USA): My (defense) partner didn’t see that it got stuck in the ref’s skates and kept following it up. Crosby stopped, picked it up, put it at the net and it went in. I definitely remember that part.

Iginla (CAN): I remember following him into the corner. He bumped it back to me and then he jumped by it and he yelled for the puck, and we were just trying to work a give and go. You’re just trying … he was pretty excited that he was open and yelled for it …

… I tried to get it back to him, and he kind of felt he had a step there. I didn’t see him put it in, but obviously I heard it and it was pretty thrilling.

Kesler (USA): It hit his (the ref’s) skate and bounced to their guy. The refs are part of the game, and unfortunately it got into the way there and turned into the gold medal goal.

Weber (CAN): I was just changing. The puck had just gotten in there so I was coming to the bench and just as I was coming in, everyone was jumping off. So I didn’t see the goal at the time, but I’ve seen replays. I was surprised because everyone was coming this way as I was coming in (the bench) and getting settled.

Miller aggressively tried to play the puck, but Crosby fooled him by firing a quick shot on goal. At that point, he was tricked, and if Crosby put the puck in the right location, it was game over.

Spoiler alert … he did.

Ryan Miller, USA (Via Sports Illustrated in 2010): "Right when [Crosby] did what I didn't think he would do, I knew the puck was in … I didn't get angry. Just disappointed. [What I did] was in-between what I should have done: held my net, the safe thing. But I played the whole tournament pretty aggressive. I just thought if he got in that area, that low, I would be on top of him by the time he figured things out. I probably only watched the replay once, until now. Why should I? I lived it. But history happens. Life goes on, and things unfold. You look back too much, you go crazy." 

Suter (USA): We all would want to have that back and we all think about how we would like to play that different. I’m sure Miller wants that back. I think he has gone on the record saying he wanted it back. It happens and you can’t hang your head on something.

THE AFTERMATH

When a team loses a series in the playoffs, it shakes hands and just leaves the ice. It doesn’t have to stand and watch the other team celebrate. This is the unfortunate part of the Olympics for the losing team. It not only watches the other squad celebrate, it then accepts its consolation prize while the winning group gets a gold medal, which draws out the process.

Crosby (CAN): I remember standing there for the anthem, as a young kid growing up watching the Olympics, so proud to be Canadian and going back to that, that’s what I remember the most. 

Parise (USA): It sucked. It was brutal. Their fans are going crazy and you’re watching the other team celebrate, and you have to wait.

As fans took to clubs and bars around Vancouver to swill beer and party, the players kept it more low-key on both ends.

Iginla (CAN): It’s something I will definitely remember, getting to share that with your family after each game. You’d go meet your family, your wife, kids at the (Molson) Canada House. So each one was nice, but at the end when you actually accomplished it and it was so close and stuff? I remember being tired after. Temporarily … it was such a big, emotional day, not other days, but just after the game. I remember being pretty tired. It was draining.

Parise (USA): We had an organized team dinner win or lose. All families. It would have been more fun had we won the game. Everyone was there with their families and took off the next morning. At the end you realize how tired you are. But you don’t at the time. But after it’s over you do. The party would have been more fun had we won, I know that.

And then it was off to Vancouver International Airport the next day. A time to forget about what just happened and move onto the next challenge.

Suter (USA): The next day at the airport (Weber) he was there with his girlfriend at the time, and I was with my wife. We were all sitting there together to get ready to get on the flight. You don’t really talk about the game. You’re talking about Nashville things at the time.

Weber (CAN): (Team Canada) celebrated the night of the game and then after that it was back to work. We were back to our club teams and striving for the same goal.

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