COLUMN: Graydon Leigh – Olympic hockey final brings Victorians together

Last weekend was not your average Sunday for normally sleepy B.C. residents

At four in the morning on any given Sunday, British Columbia embraces a well-deserved, collective rest.

Few commuters populate the expansive roadways that will connect families to Church sermons, friends to local eateries and weekend athletes to fields later in the day. The dead of night gives way to the faintest hint of a budding sunrise.

For all intents and purposes, the province effectively shuts down, gaining strength for the mild intensity that is the Canadian work week to come.

Sleep, a basic human need, is a sacred institution that unites everyone under the sun. In February, it offers British Columbians a chance to escape the wet squeeze of nature – a short relief that offers yet another reason to smile at the embarrassment of riches that are analogous to life on the West Coast. The bustling masses indulge in a prolonged love affair with their beds, losing themselves in the lure of dreamland.

The morning of Feb. 23, however, hosted the same dream gateway as any other B.C. Sunday, but in a setting nearly 10,000 kilometres away. As coffee pots whistled and TV sets concentrated on the nearly blinding glow of the Bolshoy ice dome’s white surface, a nation overcame the challenge of having to trade a healthy sleep schedule for a chance to witness a chapter of sporting history.

With the world looking on, 25 men collaborated in realizing the dreams of 35 million souls, a feat the nation’s pillows could only simulate in vain.

A 3-0 win over Sweden, a nation that has long been identified by an immense passion for the world’s fastest game, solidified another gold medal for Canada’s men’s ice hockey program, a victory that capped perhaps the most defensively sound offering of team play in Olympic history. What’s more, they did it only three days after our ladies hockey team capped Sochi’s most inspiring performance with an overtime victory over the U.S.

However, the most intriguing story to emerge from the global event’s final day wasn’t the clinic in team play that was demonstrated on-ice.

Instead, it concerns the personal narratives of the passionate horde camped out in their living rooms, computers, and, to a surprisingly common extent, local bars to cast their eyes on an international pastime’s centre stage.

It’s not the kind of sacrifice that is immortalized into legend, but speaks to the seemingly unlimited power of sport to captivate audiences and tantalize the imagination. While Mike Babcock and co.’s defeat of the Scandinavian powerhouse didn’t feature the suffocating anxiety that ended with Sid the Kid’s golden goal in Vancouver four years prior, its one-sided nature confirmed this country’s unrivalled obsession with the game now being played on our $5 note.

If sporting success were determined by the intensity of a team’s passionate fan base, then Sunday’s triumph was emblematic of the commitment level that a 4 a.m. start requires.

But the prospect of Olympic gold tantalized more than just the dreary mass watching from within our massive borders. The game has a way of transcending language, origin and time, uniting Canadians from every walk of life with an inescapably warm feeling. There’s an unexplainable ethos that overcomes the senses during the medal ceremony, allowing the most passive of viewers to ignore the giant contracts these quadrennial heroes earn.

What’s more, the celebration persuades the avid fan to forgive those team members playing for NHL teams situated south of the 49th parallel.

Perhaps that’s part of the event’s beauty. That, no matter how far away from the Great White North one goes, Canada cannot be removed from the Canadian. Much like Steve Yzerman’s daunting task of assembling the country’s best, Sunday’s clash was a locating beacon for those regarding the maple leaf with pride. It reoriented the Victoria native apprenticing as a carpenter in Madrid, and the UVic graduate in the midst of a backpacking adventure through New Zealand’s luscious countryside.

The chipped ice, abused by the freshly sharpened blades of the world’s best, was the focus of television screens in Amsterdam bars and London pubs. It was aired online for viewers living amongst the Indigenous tribes of Malaysia, or navigating the hostile environment of the Arctic tundra.

It doesn’t matter how intensely the maple syrup of patriotism courses through your veins, Olympic gold has a way of finding that displaced sense of national pride and the personal origin story that colours it.

As hockey’s suits debate the inclusion of NHLers in 2018’s Winter Games, an argument more important than any ownership group’s checks and balances arises. The Games offer a venue that no independent hockey tournament can replicate; their iconic rings enable sticks to answer questions no military arsenal can.

There’s an undeniable appeal to ice hockey gold, an allure that intoxicates both the obsessed fan and those whose knowledge of Canada’s roster doesn’t go beyond that ‘Lou’ guy. It’s an appeal a World Cup will neglect, denying the immutable connection Canadians have with a sport that’s become so much more than a way to endure winter’s chill.

The proof is in the ratings spike enjoyed by CBC on Sunday morning.

Graydon Leigh is a student at the University of Victoria and an avid hockey fan.

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