February 24, 2002—Salt Lake City, USA
After the great disappointment of Nagano, when Canada failed to win a medal despite a tremendous lineup and gold-medal expectations, Canada was leaving nothing to chance four years later. Wayne Gretzky, who was not selected in the shootout against the Czechs in 1998, had retired and been named Canada’s general manager, and he surrounded himself with a roster of executives unlike anything in Canada’s hockey history. Collectively, they chose the 20 skaters and three goalies who would try to bring their country Olympic glory for the first time since 1952.
But after just one game, questions and concerns were flying as a result of an impressive 5-2 win by Sweden. The Canadians kept their cool, however, and came together as a team in time for the playoff round. They beat Finland 2-1 in the quarter-finals game and then were denied a chance to avenge the earlier loss to Tre Kronor when Belarus stunned the Swedes, 4-3. As a result, Canada had an easy time in the semi-finals, beating Belarus 7-1 and advancing to the gold-medal game.
On the other side of the draw, the Americans were coached by Herb Brooks, the hero who led the “Miracle on Ice” team of 1980 to an improbable gold medal. Brooks took his team through the preliminary round with two wins and an exciting 2-2 tie with Russia. They hammered Germany 5-0 in their quarter-finals game and then played Russia, again, in the semi-finals. It was one of the most exciting games of the tournament. The USA dominated the first two periods, building a 3-0 lead, but the Russians were overwhelming in the final period. They scored twice but couldn’t tie the game, setting up an all-North America game for the gold.
Tony Amonte drew first blood in the final game of the 2002 Olympic hockey tournament, giving the Americans a 1-0 lead midway through the first period. Paul Kariya tied the game a few minutes later on a brilliant play by Mario Lemieux. Chris Pronger passed Lemieux the puck, and he made the motion to one-time a shot. But, instead of shooting he let the puck go past him and onto the stick of Paul Kariya. Kariya had a wide-open net as goalie Mike Richter had positioned himself to stop Lemieux’s shot. Jarome Iginla put Canada up 2-1 late in the period, and the lead lasted most of the second.
Brian Rafalski tied the game for the USA late in the second, but Joe Sakic gave Canada a lead it would never relinquish when he scored another late-period goal. In the third period, Iginla and Sakic broke the game open with late goals, sending Canada to a 5-2 victory. Despite its tremendous history of hockey success, this was the first Olympic gold for Canada since 1952, exactly half a century earlier.
In almost every Canadian city, fans with flags took to the streets to rejoice in a way Italian fans celebrate a World Cup soccer win. The gold in Salt Lake City was not only a sports success. It was a win that boosted the collective spirit of an entire nation. The 1952 Edmonton Mercurys were no longer the last Canadian team to win an Olympic hockey gold medal. Finally, a drought that lasted 50 long years was over.
As part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations, www.IIHF.com is featuring the 100 top international hockey stories from the past century (1908-2008). Starting now and continuing through the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Canada, we will bring you approximately three stories a week counting down from Number 100 to Number 11.
The Final Top 10 Countdown will be one of the highlights of the IIHF's Centennial Gala Evening in Quebec City on May 17, the day prior to the Gold Medal Game of the 2008 World Championship.
These are the criteria for inclusion on this list: First, the story has to have had a considerable influence on international hockey. Second, it has to have had either a major immediate impact or a long-lasting significance on the game. Third, although it doesn't necessarily have to be about top players, the story does have to pertain to the highest level of play, notably Olympics, World Championships, and the like. The story can be about a single moment — a goal, a great save, a referee's call — or about an historic event of longer duration — a game, series, tournament, or rule change.
Click here for the 100 Top Stories