ANAHEIM – Drew Doughty didn’t know it at the time. He was too busy being crushed by the moment.
OK, maybe crushed isn’t the right word. But when Doughty hopped over the boards, replacing Shea Weber on the fly in the four-on-four overtime period of the gold medal game in 2010, the pressure, he’ll tell you now, was almost unbearable. “It was insane,” he says. The question brings a smile to Doughty’s face now, four years later, as he arrives at the Honda Center in Anaheim focused on a key Pacific Division game that night between his Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks.
What goes through a London, Ont., kid’s mind when the coach tells him, “You’re next up!” in overtime of the Olympic Gold medal game, with more than 17,000 fans hanging on every bounce of the puck inside an arena known as Canada Hockey Place, and millions upon millions more watching across the country and the world? “You don’t want to be the guy who’s going to mess up,” Doughty says. “At the same time, you so badly want to be the guy who wins the game for your country. It’s a crazy feeling.
“I’m not gonna lie. It’s probably the most nervous I ever was…. Knowing it was in Canada, and we were supposed to win the gold medal.”
Scott Niedermayer still laughs about a giveaway he had committed in his own zone moments before the goal. However all the highlights of that goal begin with Niedermayer skating the puck out of Canada's zone, the mistake erased from Canadian memory much like the Dale Hawerchuk hook that enabled Mario Lemieux's Canada Cup winning goal in 1987 never gets talked about. Niedermayer and Weber had been on the ice for Zach Parise's tying goal, a score steeped in drama with goalie Ryan Miller pulled and 24.4 seconds remaining in the third period. Fast forward to the 7:30 mark of the first overtime period: Niedermayer walks the puck out of his own zone. He makes a routine head-man pass to Crosby at the Canadian blueline, and as Crosby takes flight, Weber peels to his left and goes for a change.
Doughty jumps over the boards. He catches up with the play just as Crosby fumbles the puck into the skates of referee Dan O'Halloran, slipping into position on the right point. Unbeknownst to everyone at that moment, The Golden Goal is unfolding. "I was coming down the right point, coming in backdoor," Doughty says. "If Sid shot it off the back pad I'd try to get the rebound. I saw it (go in) right away. Me and Niedermayer were both down pretty low actually, and we were the only two defencemen on the ice. We, like, tried to be the first guys to get to Sid."
As he watched it unfold from his spot in Canada's crease, Roberto Luongo wasn't expecting much from the play. "Iggy had it on the half wall, and it was kind of a dead play," Luongo says. "All of the sudden it squirts out. Sid wasn't at the best angle to take a shot, but the way he shot it with a quick release... It didn't develop as a great scoring chance, but you get surprised."
On the tape, you can clearly hear Crosby yell for the pass: "Iggy!" Iginla slips the puck to Crosby, who approaches Miller at a sharp angle. The kind of angle one doesn't often shoot from. But Crosby's release could be measured in shutter speed, and Miller's stick is not flush to the ice. "Then," Luongo says, "it's over. Like that."
The game ends, but the experience of having played it—and won—lasts forever. Luongo spoke recently of being impervious to pressure, having performed under the blazing spotlight of an Olympic tournament in his NHL home. Doughty, too, carries the experience of that game through his career, like a security blanket. "I used that experience of the gold-medal game throughout the whole playoff experience when we won the Cup," he says. "I wasn't nervous at all—ever," he said. "We went into many OT games, it didn't phase me. It was just fun.... Didn't feel the pressure.
Doughty will settle in at Sochi, now a veteran leader on Team Canada with no Niedermayer, Chris Pronger or Dan Boyle to lean on. Where once he studied every Niedermayer shift from the Canadian—or L.A. Kings—bench, now players like Alex Pietrangelo, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and P.K. Subban will be the ones whose hearts are beating a little faster, as they hop over the boards to replace a veteran. "I'm obviously not at the point that those three other guys were at... but I'm not a rookie on the team now," Doughty allows. "I definitely have to use my experience, be a leader on that team. It's a different time for me now."
A different time. Hopefully, for Canada, the same result.