Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Defining moment for hockey's new generation

Today's gold-medal game should rank up there with great showdowns of the past

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VANCOUVER -- For another generation, the defining and unifying question for Canada's national game was, "Where were you in '72?"

But time moves on, and the grainy, satellite images of Paul Henderson scoring in Moscow fade. New memories are etched into a country's collective consciousness.

Like, "Where were you in '02?"

"I can remember watching and how proud I was that day," recalled Team Canada's Sidney Crosby, who was all of 14 when his predecessors wearing a Maple Leaf won the first Olympic gold in 50 years in Salt Lake City. "Especially that day to see the country rally around everybody. It was a pretty amazing experience."

Jonathan Toews was 13, soaking in Canada's 5-2 victory over the U.S. at a buddy's home in Winnipeg.

"I was pretty excited to see Joe Sakic score that fifth goal of the game to clinch it," Toews said. "It was just as nerve-racking for anybody watching because you wanted it just as bad as the players.

"So it's pretty weird to be here eight years later."

Do see what's happening? On Sunday, Feb. 28, history will unfold, one way or the other.

The 2010 Vancouver Olympic men's final is so rich with international hockey history -- and not just for Canada and the U.S., either -- that it reeks of the stuff.

Of course, there are still remnants on both teams from 2002. Jarome Iginla scored twice in Salt Lake City. He'll suit up again for his country today, as will Chris Pronger and goalie Martin Brodeur, whose image was captured when he jumped for joy when the game ended.

Americans Brian Rafalski and Chris Drury were in that 2002 gold-medal final, too. But the roots to historic hockey events associated with the names on USA jerseys go back before the players were even born.

How about American sniper Zach Parise, the son of J.P. Parise, who while playing for Canada in '72 threatened to behead a ref in Moscow?

How about Ryan Suter, whose uncle Gary, while playing for the U.S. at a Canada Cup in 1991, became Public Enemy No. 1 north of the border after cross-checking Wayne Gretzky from behind?

How about Brooks Orpik, the Team USA defenceman, born in September 1980, who was named after Herb Brooks, the architect of the Miracle On Ice, a feisty crew of unknowns who shocked the world and the Soviet Union by winning gold in Lake Placid? Or how about American forward Paul Stastny, whose father Peter not only played on the Czechoslovakian team that lost to Team USA in 1980, but who went on to play internationally for Canada and then Slovakia?

You see, today, new and lasting memories will be made, memories that will last lifetimes, in some cases.

"I was in Leaf Rapids, Manitoba," said Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock, when asked on Saturday of his whereabouts in September, '72. "In school, my teacher was Mr. Jefferies and we didn't have a TV in the classroom, he just ran back-and-forth down the hall to tell us what was going on. It was just something... (I) was a kid (nine years old) just starting to play hockey and it was a fond memory."

That's how it goes. Fond misty memories for the Americans in 1980 and the World Cup of 1996. Unshakable, wistful memories in Canada of 1972 and 2002, and many more in between.

So regardless of the outcome in Vancouver, this much is certain: Years from now, a vast majority of Canadians will remember where they were while watching the gold-medal final. So will Americans, who don't need a miracle this time around.

"We understand the significance of the game," the son of J.P. Parise said. "But I think it's one of those things that after it's over, we'll really grasp how important the game was.

"I mean, it seems like my dad's having reunions from the '72 Series every summer. It's unbelievable. They're all hanging out and having a good time. They act like it was last year that they won the thing. It's something special that they have."

True, but for one hockey-obsessed nation in particular, a victory will be shared far beyond an arena in Vancouver. And far beyond its time.

Just wondering. Where were you in 2010?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 28, 2010 A28

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