The Games We Miss

Yay Hayley! - Harry How

I've missed a lot of Canada's big hockey games.

Some of those misses are due to age. The Summit Series was a dozen years before I was born and Gretzky to Lemieux wasn't on the radar of my three-year-old self. Maybe it was and those images just didn't stick. Like so many other childhood firsts, maybe my first Canadian hockey victory is lodged in some fold of my brain along with my first steps, and words, never to be fully recalled.

Some of those misses are due to circumstance. Most Canadians recall the heroics of Joe Sakic and Mario Lemieux at Salt Lake City in 2002. I don't. I had to go to a funeral that afternoon, and only tuned in on the radio late in the third period when the insurance markers had been scored and tension had turned to joy. Jonathan Toews shootout skills are the stuff of legend in this country but I don't remember the World Juniors semi-final game against the Americans in 2007. While Toews scored three shootout goals to secure the win for Canada, I was making the long trip back to school after the Christmas break, with a radio more often out of range then providing play-by-play.

But there are games I remember.

I remember Peter Forsberg's goal. I remember a dejected Great One, shedding a tear in Japan. I remember a triumphant USA. I remember a victorious and angry Hayley Wickenheiser talking about flags on dressing room floors. Most of all, I remember double gold on home soil.

***

This game was different because I tried to miss it.

Yesterday, I had a late-morning Greyhound ticket to Ottawa. The timing was such that I would miss both the end of the women's curling final and the entirety of the women's hockey final - two of my favourite Olympic events. I was pretty disappointed, but it was also fortuitous because my good friend Phil intervened. We committed to a strict regime of media deprivation and agreed to watch both games in prime time. So rather than follow along on twitter in real time, I waited. Armed with headphones and a backlog of recent TV to watch, I avoided hearing about the game. Phil had the harder task. Working at a computer with colleagues who desperately wanted to talk about the games, Phil stayed true to our cause.

We were rewarded for our efforts with two memorable victories. Because I was with Phil the tension was real. Because I was with Phil the cheering was the same. Because I was with Phil, I didn't panic and check the score after the Americans scored their second goal. Because I watched with Phil, the game I missed became one of the more memorable Canadian hockey games I've seen.

***

We remember the big games. The games that keep us cooped up in a basement for a few hours, or ordering a steady stream of comfort food at our favourite bar, or surreptitiously streaming the game in a corner of our computer screen, our eyes only darting to that Excel spreadsheet during commercial breaks.

Ask Canadians of a certain age where they were and who they were with when Henderson scored, or Lemieux, or Crosby and they can rhyme off those individual details as clearly as we collectively remember those iconic play-by-play calls. It's not a Canadian thing either. Ask Americans who remember the Miracle, ask Swedes about Forsberg and Lidstrom, and the same level of detail emerges.

But we also remember the games we miss.

I never saw Daniel Alfredsson's last game as a Senator. I don't know if I ever will. But I remember being stuck in a customs line that wouldn't move at Dulles, desperately watching a sporadic ticker at the bottom of an ESPN2 broadcast of college fastball for updates on Ottawa's playoff game against Pittsburgh. Standing there for hours, watching and re-watching the customs video where the woman gets busted for smuggling peppers into the country, I grew more despondent with each flash of the ticker. I felt the same irritation, frustration, sadness, and anger Sens fans glued to their TVs felt.

I never saw Lemieux's no-assist assist in Salt Lake. He let Chris Pronger's pass slide through his legs to an open Paul Kariya, who scored Canada's first goal of that game. I never saw the immediate celebrations of our first men's Olympic hockey gold in 50 years. But I remember the funeral I went to and I remember being with my family. I remember being able to cheer a little (ok, a lot) dressed for a funeral. I wasn't wearing any red and it didn't really matter.

I missed Jennifer Jones and her team win curling gold for Canada Thursday morning. I missed the Canadian women win hockey gold later that afternoon. But I'm going to remember cheering each medal, long after those who had watched it live had gone quiet. And I'm going to remember that instead of following the game 140 characters at a time, I went to overtime with Phil and there's nobody better to go to sudden-death with - on delay or in real-time.

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