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|| News Item: Posted 2010-03-01

'Canada has real sports fans.'
USA TODAY'S Robert Hanashiro looks back at shooting the Canada vs USA hockey game during his 12th Olympic Games in Vancouver.

By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

USA's Zach Parise and Brian Rafalski skate off the ice as Canada players celebrate their 3-2 overtime win in the men's hockey gold medal game at Canada Hockey Place.
I’ve been to Super Bowls, Final Fours, World Series Games and yes even Olympic gold medal ice hockey games. But yesterday’s Canada – USA game tops them all.

It is a cliché to say the "air was electric" as numerous TV reporters no doubt uttered over and over as the video board clock counted down until the face off between two teams that had met earlier with the Americans surprising the Canadians in pool play a week earlier.

The Summer Olympics end competition with the men's gold medal basketball game and the Winter Games end with men's ice hockey. Been to both and there is no comparison, at least with the final day of the Vancouver Olympics.

America might have the most sports watchers … Canada has real sports fans. Band Wagoners? No such thing dude. These people know the sport and know the players. Canadian hockey fans are REAL fans.

Kobe, LeBron, DWade … easy to recognize ‘em because they’re in just about every print ad, TV commercial and billboard out there it seems.

Sitting ice-side for six Olympic games in four days I got a crash course in ice hockey strategy, history and player nicknames. Easy for the casual NFL fan to say, "3rd and long you gotta throw…" A Canadian hockey fan knows the intricacies and appreciates something as simple as clearing the puck from the zone or penalty killing line - which would be akin to a baseball aficionado talking up the virtues of the sacrifice bunt.

Shooting ice-level during this Olympic tournament was often difficult. The glass was as difficult to shoot through as any I have ever seen and a lot of my images had a frustrating mushiness, even though I could swear they were in focus when they were shot. And reflections? Don’t even ask …

But in spite of these challenges - not to mention getting the glass "iced" early in both the 2nd and 3rd periods making shooting through it basically useless - Canada’s 3 – 2 overtime win has by far the most thrilling event that I have ever witnessed.

Just as the clock was winding down in regulation and it seemed Canada had clinched their record-setting 14th gold medal, the U.S. scored, tying the game 2 – 2 on a goal by Zach Parise. The near riotous roar in Canada Hockey Place was quieted save for a few chants of "USA – USA".

Shades of "A Miracle On Ice"?

If there was a feeling of being on pins and needles during those closing torrid minutes of regulation where it seemed the Americans where shooting from every angle in front of goal tender Roberto Luongo, overtime felt like sitting on icicles. Can an entire country hold its breath at one time? Sure seemed like it in overtime.

It almost seemed scripted that Sidney Crosby would win it for Team Canada. A pass from Jarome Iginla and a lightning quick shot and it was over. The crowd, a city, a country erupted into rapturous joy and then celebration.

After tearing down overhead remotes, the photo workroom went from high-fives to an almost deafening silence. Most of the photographers rushed off to try to make it to the closing ceremony or back to the Main Press Center to begin the task of packing up.

Within 90 minutes there were just a few of us left. My friend John Leyba from the Denver Post had me shoot a happy-snap of him with little cutouts of his kids he carries with him on the road. Sports Illustrated’s David Klutho came back with a couple of bags of souvenirs from last minute shopping in the arena’s store.

The train ride back to Canada Place where the Main Press Center was located was a mass of people still celebrating THEIR TEAM winning the final gold medal of these games. Loud, joyous but mostly fun.

The streets were jammed with flag-waving Canadians, scream and shouting. I couldn’t figure what they were actually saying - but it was loud and emphatic.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

John Leyba of the Denver Post edits and transmits after the Canada vs USA gold medal ice hockey game. On the TV in the background plays the closing ceremony.
Back on the Westside where my hotel was located, the massive street party had extended there as well with lots of cars filled with revelers - celebrating not only the ice hockey team's win but I think the Games themselves.

This morning as I write this, the rest of my USA TODAY colleagues are gone from the lovely Best Western Sands Hotel - across the street from a Tim Horton’s, a national institution (if a donut shop can be one) - and the shouting and celebrations have ended. Bob, Jack, H, Eileen, Sean and Mick all with morning flights had to leave the hotel around 2am for the airport.

I elected to have a later flight since I live on the west coast. No need to take a 7am flight back to LA I thought…

My walk this morning over to the Knight & Day diner for breakfast was pretty uneventful. The night before where there were crowds of cheering people and lines of cars jamming the streets honking their horns - there were now moms walking their kids to school, kids drinking coffee outside at the corner Starbucks and people opening up their little shops on Denman Street.

After having worked closely with the other USA TODAY photographers and editors for nearly three weeks, sitting here in my hotel room seems a bit - lonely.

I just got an email from Jack Gruber, who said he was waiting at LAX for his connection to Washington D.C.

It’s only been a few hours - but things already seem to be back to normal. At least here by the Best Western.

I guess I should have booked that 7am flight home after all.

(Robert Hanashiro is a staff photographer with USA TODAY. The Vancouver Winter Olympics were his 12th for the paper. He is the founder of Sports Shooter.)

Related Links:
Hanashiro's member page

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