Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated event of the Games came at the very end, as Canada faced the USA in the final of the men’s ice hockey tournament. It is hard to overstate the importance of ice hockey to most Canadians, who fully expected to see their team take gold. They also wanted to meet – and beat – their US neighbours in the final.
Canada got off to a slow start in the group matches, enduring a tense shootout against Switzerland and then going down 5-3 to the USA, who, by contrast, went through the group stage unbeaten and were looking confident. Sweden, Finland and Russia also qualified for the quarter finals, each showing enough flashes of brilliance to suggest that a fairytale ending for Canada might not be in the script.
However, in the quarter-finals Canada finally turned on the style with a 7-3 demolition of Russia, while the USA only just scraped past Switzerland. In the last four, Canada found themselves up against surprise package Slovakia and toiled to a 3-2 victory, with the USA securing their place in the final with a more comfortable win over Finland.
The eagerly awaited gold-medal match did not disappoint. By the end of the second period of a classic contest in which the pendulum swung first one way and then the next, Canada held a slender 2-1 lead. In the third, tension levels reached fever pitch as the Americans searched for an equaliser. In an act of desperation, they brought Zach Parise on in place of their goaltender for the final minute, leaving their net unguarded. Reckless it may have been, but the gamble paid off, as Parise brought the scores level with less than 30 seconds left on the clock.
It took seven minutes of extra time before the deadlock was finally, and decisively, broken, as Canadian captain Sidney Crosby slipped the puck past Ryan Miller to earn a 3-2 win that sparked huge celebrations on the ice, inside the stadium and around the country. It was Canada’s 14th gold medal of the Games, making it the most successful host nation in Winter Olympic history.