Jonathan Toews can count on one hand the number of times he hasn’t been able to relax ahead of a big game.
Known as “Captain Serious” for his steely demeanour, Toews knows pressure-packed moments.
World juniors. Stanley Cups. Conference finals. Game 7s.
Nerves, however, started to eat at Toews in late February 2010 — hours before the gold-medal men’s hockey final between Canada and the United States at the Vancouver Olympics.
“There’s maybe two or three games in my career where I couldn’t sleep the night before,” the Winnipeg native recalled. ”That would be one of them.”
The tension didn’t melt away until Sidney Crosby scored at 7:40 of overtime on a quick shot between Ryan Miller’s pads to give Canada a 3-2 win, sending the country into chaotic euphoria rarely seen north of the 49th parallel.
Friday marks the 10th anniversary of the golden goal — one of our few coast-to-coast-to-coast ”where were you when?” sporting moments. For the players on the ice, the people in the stands, those who watched in packed bars or at home with family, it still feels like yesterday.
“You’re just trying to win a hockey game,” Crosby said earlier this month when asked if he understood the significance of the goal in that moment. ”You look at it as a great opportunity. Being in Canada, growing up as a kid you dream of being in those situations.
“After the fact is when you let all that stuff sink in.”
Things also could have played out so much differently.
Canada led 2-0 midway through the game on goals by Toews — not yet 22 years old, but already captain of the Chicago Blackhawks — and Corey Perry.
Ryan Kesler replied for the Americans to make it 2-1 heading to the third period, and with the crowd ready to explode, Zach Parise tied the game off a rebound on Roberto Luongo with 24.4 seconds left in regulation to force OT.
“I remember that feeling,” said Crosby, now 32. ”You’re so close and we’d played such a good game … having it come down to basically one shot. Those are big situations to be in, especially at a young age.
“But I was happy that we found a way to win it.”
Back in 2015, Miller reflected on the crucial sequence where Crosby, the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, shouted “Iggy” to linemate Jarome Iginla before taking the pass down low and thumping the puck five-hole.
“Big for him, not so good for me,” said the U.S. goalie. “I made a decision to play Sid a certain way and he made a decision to make a different kind of play. I thought he was going to go to that strong backhand he’s got.”
“I couldn’t really see the puck going under Miller’s pad,” Toews said. ”But seeing Crosby’s reaction, him jumping up and down and throwing his gloves off … it’s seared into my mind.”
Canadian defenceman Chris Pronger, who had a “great view” of the goal from the bench, said the edge-of-your-seat victory that set a record for the most gold medals won by a host country at a Winter Olympics was even sweeter because of the adversity.
“What that team went through to put ourselves in that position speaks volumes,” said Pronger, part of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s class of 2015. ”A lot of people wrote us off.
“You could hear a pin drop (after the Parise goal). It was very quiet. Once Crosby scored, people could breathe again. You could see there were a lot of tense faces in the crowd.”
Play-by-play man Chris Cuthbert, who called the game on television for Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium, said he’s never experienced an atmosphere like that sweaty-palmed February afternoon.
“People criticize me a little bit for sounding excited about the Parise goal, but that’s part of the profession,” said Cuthbert, who attended Game 2 of the 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series at Maple Leaf Gardens as a fan. ”I do think I showed (my Canadian) colours a little too much on the gold-medal goal. I was a little bit too emotional, but you’re along for the ride.
“The building was beyond electric. I threw back to host James Duthie (in the studio) and was almost glad I was done so I could just soak it all in. I remember sitting there for 20 minutes just watching, absorbing.”
U.S. winger Patrick Kane said result aside, Feb. 28, 2010, remains a special memory.
“Probably one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of,” said Kane, a teammate of Toews with Chicago. ”I remember looking in the crowd and seeing grown men crying — such an important moment for Canada.
“It would have been great to win, but it was a great experience.”
Did he have the same pre-game nerves as Toews?
“I slept like a baby,” Kane said with a grin. ”A little bit more pressure on those Canadians guys.”
Long before he was the best player in the game and captain of the Edmonton Oilers, Connor McDavid was a 13-year-old soaking up the action north of Toronto.
“Any Canadian that watches hockey can probably tell you where they were,” said McDavid, whose favourite player growing up was Crosby. ”I was with a group of teammates in someone’s basement. When he scored, everyone jumps up and hugs each other. It was special.”
Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews watched the game at home in Arizona.
“I just remember being shocked,” said the 22-year-old. ”It happened all so quickly, and we saw the gloves go in the air.”
Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon, who’s since become close friends with Crosby, was 14 and watching back in their shared hometown of Cole Harbour, N.S.
“Amazing moment,” MacKinnon said. ”It was unbelievable. It was huge for kids in Canada to see. He’s a legend just for that goal. He could have retired after that.”
Canadian curler Ben Hebert and his teammates were in the Vancouver crowd and nursing a gold-medal hangover — the country’s 13th of the Games — after topping the podium the previous day.
“We were right behind the net, 10 rows up, where Sid scored,” said Hebert, who hung out with some of the players in the athletes’ village. ”There’s actually a picture I’ve seen where he scores and you can see everybody standing in the background and you can pick us out. It’s awesome.”
John Morris, another member of Kevin Martin’s gold-medal winning curling rink, said the moment sticks with him for a number of reasons.
“Between that time and the following 24 hours would be maybe the proudest I’ve ever been to be Canadian,” he said. ”Looking around and seeing the majority of people wearing Canadian colours, but also it was a very multicultural scene — that’s what I really thought was cool about it.”
Leafs forward Alexander Kerfoot, 15 at the time and also lucky enough to be in the building for the noon puck drop, said emotions were raw.
“I was at an age where I was pretty serious about hockey, but still young enough to be a big fan,” said Kerfoot. ”That whole Olympic experience was pretty cool for someone growing up in Vancouver. There was a ton of buzz. Everyone was into every aspect of it. When he scored, that was pretty cool.
“I can still remember that day.”
Just like Toews, the rest of that memorable roster and a couple generations of Canadian hockey fans.
“It’s crazy it’s 10 years ago already,” said Toews, now 31. ”You know it’s special at the time, but looking back it’s even more incredible in hindsight — just the unique experience of being part of Canada’s Olympic team, on home soil, and bringing home a gold medal.
“It was honestly checking off pretty much every box you could imagine.”
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press