My Favorite Goal: Sakic helps end Canada’s Olympic gold drought

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Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers, personalities and NHL players remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, PHT’s Joey Alfieri remembers Joe Sakic’s goal that sealed Canada’s win in the 2002 Olympic gold medal game.

It might be easy for some to forget now, but Canada went through an Olympic gold medal drought that lasted 50 years. Sure, NHLers weren’t allowed in the Olympics throughout most of that slump, but it was a big deal when I was growing up. Let me add a little background to my international hockey obsession.

As a youngster growing up in Montreal, Quebec, the first international tournament I really remember paying close attention to was the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. At the time, I was eight years old and I remember sitting on my couch watching the  Canada-Czech Republic semifinal with those hockey cards you could cut out from behind the Kraft Dinner macaroni and cheese boxes (anyone else remember those things?). In one hand, I had a Patrick Roy card and in the other, I had a Dominik Hasek card.

Of course, both goalies were going head-to-head that day, which is why I had those cards close by. When Hasek stopped Brendan Shanahan on Canada’s final shootout attempt, I was in shambles. I remember my family trying to console me, but there was nothing anyone could say that to take the pain of losing to the Czechs go away in that moment.

I look back on that moment now and realize the heartbreak I suffered took my passion for the sport to another level. It was the first time I was really heartbroken over a single hockey moment.

I was so distraught that I tore my Hasek and Roy cards to pieces. I was furious at Hasek for winning, I was heartbroken that Roy didn’t make one more save. It was terrible. I’ll never forget Hasek leaping into the air repeatedly seconds after that game ended.

Anyway, let’s fast-forward to 2002.

You have to keep in mind that my love for international hockey intensified year after year leading up to the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. There was more heartbreak between the 1998 Olympic loss and the 2002 triumph though.

During those years, I began following the World Junior Championship closely and it just so happened that Canada failed to win the tournament every year between 1998 and 2005. My frustration with Hockey Canada was pretty high heading into that 2002 tournament.

I remember head coach Pat Quinn announcing that Curtis Joseph would be his starting goaltender heading into the tournament. I recall not being a fan of that move (keep in mind, I was 12-year-old living in Martin Brodeur’s hometown).

So, Canada opened the tournament with a 5-2 loss to Team Sweden. The Swedes were loaded with talent, but I was still stunned. It’s not the way I expected the Canadians to open the tournament. The confidence in my team, which probably took four years to develop, was gone in one night.

But Canada ended up switching from Joseph to Brodeur and they managed to beat Germany 3-2 in their second game. The Canadians then tied the Czechs in their final round robin game. Throughout this entire opening round, I never allowed myself to think that they had a legitimate chance at gold. After all, I was just trying to avoid the same sting I felt last time.

So, the knockout portion of the tournament comes and Canada beats Finland 2-1 in the quarter-final, and then they take out Belarus, who shocked Sweden, rather easily (7-1) in the semi-final.

It’s Canada and Team USA in the final for all the marbles.

Sunday, Feb. 24, 2002. It’s a day I’ll never forget. Like every fan, I was nervous. And I was sick and tired of hearing about this 50-year gold medal drought everyone was talking about.

The game starts, and Tony Amonte opens the scoring for the Americans. Here we go again. The Canadians respond with two goals from Paul Kariya and Jarome Iginla before the end of the first frame and Canada goes into the intermission with a 2-1 lead. I’m just a kid, but I’m a wreck. The intermissions felt like they lasted a lifetime.

Brian Rafalski ties the game in the second period, but Joe Sakic puts Canada up by a goal late in the second period.

20 minutes to go.

The Canadians were nursing that one-goal lead for most of the final period. With every great American chance, I was getting more and more antsy. Finally, Iginla scored his second goal of the game with four minutes remaining to give Canada a two-goal edge. I was ecstatic, but I still wanted to hold off celebrating.

But then it happened.

It’s a goal call that I’ll never forget by my favorite play-by-play announcer, Bob Cole.

Canada trying to hang on. They get a break. It’s gonna be a break. It is Joe Sakic…scores! Jiiiiiiiiooooo Sakic scores! And that makes it 5-2 for Canada. Surely, that’s gotta be it!

I’ll never forget the way Cole said Sakic’s full name after that puck crossed the goal line. It was perfect. What a moment.

Finally, I realized that the ridiculous drought I had been hearing about for weeks was about to become a thing of the past.

Even though Sakic’s goal wasn’t the game-winner or anything like that, it symbolized so much more to me. It was the final nail in Team USA’s coffin and it made the 1998 heartbreak hurt a lot less.

“As a kid growing up in Canada, you dream of playing in the NHL, winning a Stanley Cup, and one day wearing a Team Canada jersey,” Sakic told Olympic.ca. “Having the chance to play for my country at the Olympics, and especially winning a gold medal in Salt Lake City, was an amazing and memorable experience I’ll always cherish.”

Most Canadians never get to represent their country on the international stage, but Sakic’s goal made every hockey fan in the nation feel like something special. As Canadians, we’re supposed to be good at hockey. For a long while, it didn’t feel that way. But that day in February, one man’s goal changed everything.

PREVIOUSLY ON MY FAVORITE GOAL:
Darren McCarty shows off goal-scoring hands during 1997 Cup Final
Alex Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’ as a rookie
Marek Malik’s stunning shootout winner
Paul Henderson scores for Canada
Tomas Hertl goes between-the-legs
Borschevsky’s goal sealed with a kiss
Bolland clinches Cup for Blackhawks 17 seconds later
Stoll completes Kings’ upset over Canucks

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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