Before gold-medal hockey game, Canadians play hockey in street near arena to ‘calm our nerves’

By Larry Lage, AP
Sunday, February 28, 2010

Fans play hockey near arena to ‘calm our nerves’

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — About four hours before the gold-medal hockey game, Brendan Fisher and Ronan Mackey couldn’t stand the wait. So they grabbed their sticks, two nets and went to play some pickup hockey — right outside the arena where Canada and the United States would be playing.

“This was the only way we thought we could calm our nerves,” Mackey said.

Their good idea seemed in jeopardy when cops approached.

“We’re going to have to shut this down,” an officer told them, “unless we can play.”

Soon, it was game on: five on a side, plus a goalie, swatting around a small orange ball across a makeshift playing field that stretched from curb to curb, about 50 feet wide.

“It’s what every kid in Canada grew up doing,” said Mackey, 32, of Calgary, Alberta.

Excitement built throughout downtown Vancouver and across all of Canada as THE game approached. A week after the Americans won 5-3 in a game watched on television by more Canadians than anything before it, the teams were meeting again to decide the final gold medal of the Vancouver Olympics.

Among the other wrinkles: Canada was going for a Winter Olympics-record 14th gold medal, and the U.S. was seeking only its third gold medal in this sport — the last coming in the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980 and the other coming exactly 50 years before, against Canada.

Lines to get into bars were a block long, and that at the breakfast hour, before some places even opened.

The roughly 19,000 tickets were like precious jewels. One guy said he and his three buddies each paid about $1,500 for their seats.

“You gotta do it,” said the man, who wouldn’t give his name. “Any true Canadian would do it.”

Inside the arena, Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper settled into his seat wearing a red Team Canada jacket, and Gordie Howe was spotted in a blue jacket.

Steve Yzerman, the team’s executive director, told Canadian broadcasters his key to victory was “composure.”

“This is really exciting,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been nerve-racking as well. We’re all excited. We’re all nervous. We’re all human.”

In the Mount Pleasant neighborhood outside downtown, a toddler in his Canada jersey was outside, hitting around a ball with a mini-stick, smiling all the while. Cars drove by, many adorned with Canadian flags.

Back on Abbott Street, outside the hockey arena, the pickup games were done in the final hour before the puck dropped. There was only one goal left up, with Fisher defending it against his 8-year-old niece, Caia Fisher-Hulse, whose dad, Cale Hulse, spent parts of 10 seasons in the NHL, mostly with the Calgary Flames.

“She has a good shot,” said Fisher, 36, of Vancouver. “She was giving me (a hard time) because I was letting in soft goals.”

AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.

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