Believe it: Hockey is Canada’s religion

Canadians across the country and in deserts and world-class cities around the globe gathered to watch Team Canada win Olympic gold (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

It was 4:45 a.m. on a Sunday morning, and we were sitting around a table in a packed establishment, waiting for bar service to begin at 5. Then a voice at our table piped up: “After this game, we’re all going to Church.”

At least three people within earshot responded identically. “This IS Church!”

We are Canadians, up in the middle of the night to watch our boys play hockey. Amen.

In fact, our hockey might be the only thing that we get all American, and southern gospel over. We arrive in force and a tad preachy, with a goalie we’ve nicknamed “Jesus Price.” Defame the red Maple Leaf at your peril, as we don’t suffer blaspheme well.

We exercise anti-prohibition, changing our liquor laws overnight for a gold medal game with a 7 a.m. ET puck drop, a fact that no one — not even those folks who live to be concerned about the level of fun enjoyed by others — raise a voice against in protest. Then, even versus the friendly Swedes, we arrive with a red wave of painted faces and sweaters of all different vintages, with a number of television viewers for the 2010 Olympic gold medal game (16.6 million) that surpassed the number of voters in the 2011 federal election (14.7 million).

Seriously — what else would you set a 3 a.m. (Mountain time) alarm for, in order to pick your friends up at 4:15 and get a decent table when the bar opens at 4:30? It felt, as we stood in the doorway, like we should be catching an early flight to somewhere warm.

In the dark of a winter night — and a damned cold one across the prairies — they lined up outside of bars at three, four and 5 a.m. in hopes of securing a good table and a proper view of what has become a lifetime memory that our boys have afforded us. Who doesn’t know where they were in 2010 when Sidney Crosby scored the Golden Goal? And who won’t remember where they were gathered when he scored again on Sunday, his long-awaited first goal of the tournament, a Canadian moment that won’t soon be forgotten.

“To get a chance like that late in the second (period), to know you can go up (by) two, you want to make sure that you make the most of it,” Crosby told reporters in Sochi post-game. “I remember in Vancouver, I missed one with a couple of minutes left and they ended up tying it. So it’s nice to be able to get that one, get a bit of a cushion.”

Sure, we expected more than one goal from Sid. But his game was flawless in Sochi, and like a microcosm of a team for whom goals did not come easily, he did not sacrifice his team duties in search of improved personal statistics. And when he finally did break in all alone in a 1-0 game, the gold medal literally on his stick (the way lead changes went in this tournament), did anyone from Cole Harbour, N.S. to Victoria, B.C. have a doubt he’d beat Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist?

“He’s a big-time player, big-game player. He’s our leader. Best player in the world,” said Canadian forward Matt Duchene. “We had full confidence he was going to bury it there.”

As a Canadian I’d have bet my hockey gear, as Crosby sped in alone, that the play would end with red-sleeved arms in the air from coast-to-coast. There are, however, plenty of things we are not so sure about. No one says, “I’m sorry,” more than a Canadian — until, of course, we’re kicking your butt in a hockey game.

Then we’re not sorry at all.

Head coach Mike Babcock emerged as a calming, confident voice over these past two weeks, never transmitting even a morsel of angst in Sochi, despite the fact that $150 million worth of NHL product couldn’t net more than two or three goals per game. Crosby, as it turns out, was Babcock’s bell weather; the small sample version of the team this Team Canada turned out to be.

“Everyone evaluates Sid on scoring,” Babcock had said after a preliminary-round game against Finland. I evaluate Sid on winning. That’s what we came here for.”

After Sunday’s game he re-visited the topic: “Does anybody know who won the (Olympic tournament) scoring race? Does anybody care?

“Does anybody know who won the gold medal?”

That much we know, Mike. It might have been early, but we’ll never forget it.