Sunday, February 23, 2014

More than hockey.

Prior to 2010, I never really watched much hockey at all.

The first hockey game I watched was a Canucks game back in 2009. I was taken by my cousin from Toronto to the game because she has never seen Mats Sundin play on a good team with actual wingers before (thanks again Sandy!), but at the end of that I was thoroughly confused by the game -- can't help it really, as they never showed a single hockey game in Hong Kong before I moved here in 2006. Besides, nobody told me that hockey was a big deal in Canada (I know, the rock I was living under was massive).

I even tried to watch some playoff games on TV later that year, but you know that was when the Canucks were used to being slapped around by the Blackhawks so it's not like everyone around me was eager to talk about it much.

And then in 2010 came the Olympics in our own backyard. All of a sudden everyone around me started wearing red and white jerseys and wouldn't shut up about the game. So it caught my curiosity. I watched as we annihilated Norway by the score of 8-0; narrowly beat Switzerland in the shootout; and witnessed the most beautiful empty netter I've seen scored by one Ryan Kesler. And then there was the game against Germany where Weber shot the puck so hard that it went into warp speed and ripped through the net; the 7-3 pounding of the Russians; Demitra's (RIP) near-miss in the final seconds of the game; and of course, the gold medal game with the United States.

The build up was intense. Everyone was passionate about the rosters, the lines, the penalties, the hits, and the goals. It seems as though everything stopped while everyone in Canada was glued to every play unfolding on live television. Ryan Miller was impenetrable, but still we built up a 2-0 lead by the middle of the 2nd period. All that has changed however when Luongo let in a signature softie (according to social media anyway) and the game was on.

Seconds ticked by and we saw that 2-1 score remain into the final minute of the game. We thought this game was in the bag. The American net was empty as Ryan Miller had gone to the bench for an extra attacker. We can feel it. We are winning the gold medal at home. We were ready to celebrate.

30 seconds later, Zach Parise became our most hated player of all time. The score was tied at 2-2. To overtime we go.

I still remember that I was on the verge of insanity as overtime went on. Every play could be the last. One giveaway in our defensive zone, one lapse of concentration by our goalie and the game would be over: The Americans would stand with gold medals around their neck.

With 13 minutes to go in overtime, we just recovered from a giveaway in our own zone but Luongo was up to the task. Niedermayer skated the puck out of the zone, passed it over to Crosby, who attempted to split the defense. No dice, as Miller kicked the rebound towards the boards. Crosby collected the puck, cycled it to Iginla, and...


I spent the next couple hours high-fiving everyone in Downtown.

February 28, 2010 was the official moment when I became a hockey fan. More importantly, it was also the moment when I fell in love with Canada.

I guess it was less about the hockey game, but the sense of unity and pride I felt in Vancouver. It was the impromptu singing of O Canada on the Skytrain; the celebratory hugs people gave each other on the streets; complete strangers talking to each other about the glorious moments of the game; the waving of Canadian flags; the honks from passing cars; the absolute joy -- and relief -- on everyone's faces. It was unlike anything I've ever experienced.

People from my hometown often say that Canada is boring, that there isn't much to care for or be passionate about. Well, fuck them -- they don't know what they are missing.

The 2010 Winter Olympics was my baptism. On February 28, 2010, I became an unapologetic Canadian (sorry about that, HK).

Whatever happens later matters a great deal to me as a hockey fan -- but win or lose, no one can take away my pride for this Canadian team and for this great country.

Go Canada Go.

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