Canada is hockey.
As a nation we are very modest, but after bringing home both Olympic gold medals in men's and women's hockey we can beat our chests a little.
(Canada is also clearly curling, as we took both gold medals in that sport as well!)
In Whistler, just like across Canada, we paused from whatever we were doing to watch, or catch up with the scores as the elimination games took place in Olympic hockey.
When the women's team snatched victory from the jaws of defeat at the hands of the U.S., the cheers could be heard from coast to coast.
Last Sunday, Feb. 23, people gathered in homes, local watering holes and even at the sub-zero Whistler Olympic Plaza to cheer on Canada's men's team as it faced Sweden in the final face-off. While not a nail biter, as the game was in Vancouver in 2010 when Team Canada faced the U.S., it was still a beautifully executed piece of sport.
And we cheered — loudly.
Crosby flew down the ice and scored on a break away — we cheered.
Goaltender Carey Price had a shut out — we cheered.
The defensive play was spectacular — we cheered.
Team players didn't throw their sticks to the ice and break into a punch up — we... didn't notice/didn't care/didn't miss the fighting?
Canada, 15 million of us, just watched our men's team become the first back-to-back gold medal winner since the NHL began sending its members in 1998. It was the first time Canada won gold in two straight Games since 1948 and 1952.
And it was all done without a single fight.
It's not that there weren't moments when you could see players skate a little too close to each other, or exchange a meaningful look, but they knew the rules and they are, after all, professionals. They were there to play and there to win.
It begs the question then why doesn't the game get rid of fighting in its regular season?
There is no doubt fighting has long been part of the game in North America, and has acted as a draw for the sport in attracting spectators for the game. Some argue it also helps cement the players as a team.
In 1922 the NHL, in recognizing that fighting was here to stay, introduced Rule 56 — it formally regulated fighting, or "fisticuffs" as it was called in the official NHL rulebook. Rather than ejecting players from the game, as was the practice in amateur and collegiate hockey, players were given a five-minute major penalty.
In the current NHL rulebook, the archaic reference to "fisticuffs" has been removed; fighting is now governed under Rule 46 and referees are given considerable latitude in determining what exactly constitutes a fight, and what penalties are applicable to the participants.