Posted by Ralph Routon
Even before the puck drops, Canadians are calling this "the greatest hockey game of all time." Or, for those with broader perspective, "the biggest sports event in Canada's history."
Regardless, you get the idea of what the men's hockey final at the end of the 2010 Winter Olympics truly means to this host nation. And with an hour still remaining until face-off at 12:15 p.m. Pacific time, the atmosphere already is building inside Canada Hockey Place for the Canada-USA battle for the final gold medal of the Vancouver Games.
The organizers also are taking nothing for granted, with thorough security checks for every spectator and member of the media. All of us with media credentials also had to have a special extra ticket to get inside the door, and police came on every bus to check for proper passes before allowing the buses through to the arena.
As intense and deafening as the crowd is sure to be, and as determined as the Canadians are to end the Olympics on the right note and avenge that hockey loss a week ago to the Americans, it's hard to imagine Team USA pulling off its third men's hockey gold - despite the fact this is the 50th anniversary of winning the first, in 1960 at Squaw Valley, Calif. The other gold, of course, was the Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1980.
That means the U.S. never has won the men's hockey gold medal outside America. We'll see if that's still the case in a few more hours.
Downtown Vancouver also is jammed with tens of thousands on the streets, many heading early to the closing ceremony at B.C. Place (next door to Canada Hockey Place). Early arriving spectators for the closing event will be able to watch the men's hockey on the stadium's huge video screens.
And by the way, no U.S. skiers are in medal contention nearing the end of the final snow event today, the 50-kilometer men's cross-country mass start.
So the United States, with its gold or silver in men's hockey this afternoon, will finish for certain with 37 medals, the most by any nation in Winter Games history.
And if the hockey game is half as great as the anticipation, it'll be unforgettable.