T he 2002 Olympics were a sequel, of sorts, for hockey — and no country carried more baggage into the Games than Canada. Four years earlier, women’s hockey made its Olympic debut in Japan, where the Canadians — the world’s leading team — were upset by the United States in the gold medal game. Meanwhile, on the men’s side, Canada’s entry at the first Games to feature NHLers met its demise in a gut-wrenching semifinal shootout loss to Dominik Hasek and the Czech Republic. What’s more, the Canadian men had not won Olympic gold in the sport its country invented since 1952, marking a 50-year drought when they headed to Salt Lake City.
With all that serving as a backdrop, Canada sent a women’s squad headlined by the likes of Cassie Campbell, Hayley Wickenheiser and Vicky Sunohara, and a men’s team constructed by Wayne Gretzky — the man left lingering on the bench during the ’98 shootout — and captained by Mario Lemieux to try to make good. This is the story of how a thrilling double-gold strike came together for Canada 20 years ago.
Both Canadian teams entered preparation for the 2002 Games with the memories and lessons they’d learned four years earlier in Nagano fresh in the backs of their minds.
Brendan Shanahan, Men’s Forward: The 1998 Olympic team was really strong. We realized that in a tournament like the Olympics, things can change quickly — in just one game. We didn’t play a bad game against the Czechs. We just ran into a hot goaltender. We couldn’t score and next thing you know, we’re out of gold medal contention.
Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Women’s Captain: I still have the faces of France Saint-Louis, Stacy Wilson and Judy Diduck ingrained in my brain. After watching that generation — who were my heroes — not win in their only opportunity to potentially play in the Olympics, that’s something that I kind of still live with to this day, those faces. But that was our motivation [in 2002].
Jayna Hefford, Women’s Forward: In our program, up until 1998, we never lost an international competition. The expectations were that we would just win because that’s what we had done. It didn’t change after we lost. It’s hockey in Canada and the expectations are that you win. But what [Nagano] did do is it showed us how it felt to lose. And that feeling never goes away.
When you’re in a rut, it forces you to look inside. What can I do better? How can I contribute? It forced us to look at those things and realize that everything we had done in the past that brought us success, wasn’t working anymore.
Bob Nicholson, CEO, Hockey Canada 1998–2014: My debriefing with Bobby Clarke, who was [part of the 1998 team management], was very brief [after Nagano]. He had one recommendation: “Get Wayne Gretzky involved.” I called Wayne and said, “I’d like to get together with you to see if you’d like to get involved with Hockey Canada and the next Olympics.” He said, “Bob, it would be great. I’ll do anything, I’d be the stick boy. I want to be involved in 2002.”
Every Canadian general manager in the National Hockey League wants that position. No [Canadian national team] had previously gone outside [active NHL GMs] to do that position. I thought about [picking an active GM], but in fairness, not too long. I wanted to get Wayne involved.
Gretzky, the Canadian men’s executive director, quickly made his mark when it came to the team’s management group.
Nicholson: One name that came up was Kevin Lowe. The more we talked, Wayne said, “I like Kevin Lowe because we think alike.” They won Stanley Cups together so their thought process was very similar. [Editor’s note: Lowe was named assistant executive director of Canada Olympic hockey.] We discussed many coaches and it ultimately came down to Pat Quinn, just because of his presence and what players thought of him at that time as a head coach.
Months in advance of the torch-lighting, the anticipation and preparation continued for Canada’s teams. On the women’s side, the anxiety over losing in 1998 was stoked by the fact Canada dropped eight straight exhibition contests to the U.S. leading up to the 2002 event. As for the men, a September orientation camp offered a chance for a new crop of players like Ryan Smyth, Eric Brewer and Jarome Iginla to mix with established legends of the game.
Ryan Smyth, Men’s Forward: I was awestruck. You don’t want to come across that way because you want to feel like you are one of them. But these guys are icons and future Hall of Famers that have paved the way for players like myself and those that are playing now.
Jarome Iginla, Men’s Forward: While I was hoping to get invited to the orientation camp in Calgary, I wasn’t expecting it. When I wasn’t invited, I wasn’t like, “Oh, I should’ve been.” I knew this team was that good. I got a late call after the first day because Simon Gagné got a groin injury. I’m nervous, I go in there, I got my bag and I’m late coming in the next day. But it was such a huge boost for me. I just remember Lindros ripping pucks. This is the first time I’m seeing these guys up close. But I actually could make plays with them and hold my own.
Michael Peca, Men’s Forward: I was scheduled to be on the same line as Steve Yzerman during practice [at Orientation Camp]. He was on the wing and I was playing centre. I said to Pat Quinn, “Steve Yzerman is my idol growing up. There’s no way I am playing centre. He can play centre, I’ll play the wing.” Without missing a beat, Steve just looked at me and said, “We won’t be playing in the same line in the tournament. I’m going to be on the line with Mario.” I’m like, “That’s fine. I’ll play centre.” My idol was there taking some shots at me but it was all in good fun.
Campbell-Pascall: We had issues that surrounded the 2002 team off the ice. Nancy Drolet, one of our key veterans from 1998 was released. She was replaced by Cherie Piper, a young talented rookie. We faced a lot of adversity.
Danielle Goyette, Women’s Forward: It was our last exhibition game in Vancouver against Team USA. [Players] were yelling in the room at intermission. At one point [after the game], Cassie Campbell got up and said, “You guys. Yes, we lost, but what a story it’s going to be when we win the gold medal.” That stuck with me.
Hayley Wickenheiser, Women’s Forward in her book Over the Boards: Lessons from the Ice: The last-minute change [releasing Drolet] unsettled us. All of this made for a stressful, turbulent run-up to the Games. We needed a break and to have some fun as a team. Shortly before flying to Utah, management sent us on a three-day retreat to a resort on Emerald Lake, just west of the Alberta border.
External pressures and inexperience had knocked us off our game in ’98. On this retreat, we created a game plan for that, just as we would if we were facing a team that used a zone trap. We brainstormed a “distraction list”: all the crazy things that could occur at the Olympics to distract us from our mission. Circumstances we would have no control over, things that could mess with our focus.
We decided that if any of those awful scenarios came true, we would say “Emerald Lake.” Not the most original code word, but we were tired. Emerald Lake suited us just fine.
On the men’s side, the last NHL games before the Olympic break were on Feb. 13. Canadian players departed to Salt Lake City, with only one practice taking place on Feb. 14 before their first round-robin game against Sweden. And in that opener, Canada — with Toronto Maple Leaf Curtis Joseph in goal — got pummelled 5–2. That prompted Quinn to turn to Martin Brodeur for the next game, a tight 3–2 win over what should have been an overmatched opponent in Germany.
Ken Hitchcock, Men’s Assistant Coach: There was real concern as a coaching staff after that German game. We had a meeting with the leadership group. That’s when we suggested that we stay away from the rink: We shorten up everything; no practices, no pregame skate. Just show up and play.
Jacques Martin, Men’s Assistant Coach: We were in an intensity mode of an NHL regular season. That wasn’t going to cut it at the Olympics. We needed to rev it up to Stanley Cup Playoffs level.
Scott Niedermayer, Men’s Defenceman: It got our attention when we lost to the Swedes. But there was no sense panicking. We had veteran guys who had been through a lot in their careers.
Smyth: Against Germany, Curtis Joseph was on the bench. He didn’t dress that game. Halfway through the game, he said, “Nobody’s going to beat us now.”
Canada’s final round-robin game against the Czech Republic — a rematch of their semi-final contest four years earlier — ended in a 3–3 draw. The 1-1-1 start prompted Gretzky to deliver a now-famous rant in a postgame press conference, standing up for the team he’d assembled.
“Am I hot? Yeah, I’m hot,” Gretzky proclaimed to reporters. “I’m tired at people taking shots at Canadian hockey.”
Nicholson: I think it was a turning point. I remember sitting with Wayne after the Czech game and he said, “This is wrong, Bob. Everyone’s after us.” I say, “Hey you go out there, Wayne. This isn’t the National Hockey League. This is worldwide media with every newspaper.” He asked me, “What did you hire me for?” To which I replied, “To win.” He said: “We’re going to win.”
Steve Tambellini, Men’s Director of Player Personnel: There were always going to be moments where you needed someone like Wayne. Everyone had the utmost respect for Wayne and the way he did business. In this type of tournament, it’s Canada against the world. Everybody wants to beat Canada. Wayne stood up for our coaches, our team, and our country.
Martin: It was almost like he was one of the players.
Unlike the men, the Canadian women started off their Olympic tournament in dominant fashion. In the round robin, Team Canada didn’t give up a goal, outscoring opponents 25–0. After a quarterfinal bye, Canada faced Finland in the semis and jumped to a 2–0 lead before the halfway mark of the first period. Finland stormed back, though, with three straight goals, and Canada was down 3-2 entering the third period.
Hefford: Our families were in the crowd, figuring out how to get bronze medal tickets. I remember Cassie saying, “What a story this is going to be when we get through this and we win a gold medal.”
Campbell-Pascall: From the 1990 World Championship up until the 2002 Olympics, Finland could beat Canada or the United States. You didn’t want to go through Finland in the semi-finals. In between the second and third periods, I reminded the team that we’ve faced a ton of adversity this year. We got through the previous steps of adversity, so there’s no problem getting through this one.
Jennifer Botterill, Women’s Forward: Dana Antal at one point said “Emerald Lake” in the second intermission. All of us just snapped into it. It was just perfect.
The Canadian women put up five unanswered goals in the third period, earning a 7–3 win and a rematch with Team USA in the final. Team Canada’s men, too, got by Finland with a 2–1 win in the quarterfinal. Then Canada’s men got a massive break: In another quarterfinal, Belarus stunned Sweden, which previously looked unstoppable. Goalie Tommy Salo was beaten by a shot from outside the blueline in the third period to give the Belarusians a 4–3 lead they managed to preserve. Canada then steamrolled the Cinderella squad 7–1 in the semis, securing a spot in the final versus the host Americans.
Shanahan: The day before the gold-medal game, [Team USA head coach] Herb Brooks walked over to a few of us in the Olympic cafeteria. We were just walking back to our table with trays of food. I’d never met Herb before. He said hello to us and was very friendly. Then he said, “Isn’t this great? It’s so great that the gold medal is going to a North American team. The other team will at least have the silver. This is just so good for North America and for hockey.”
One of the guys I was sitting with was Ryan Smyth. I remember we refused to say a word to him and we were thinking, “What kind of Jedi mind trick is he playing? Why is he speaking to me?” Looking back now, he was just being friendly. But at the time, when he was done speaking, he got blank stares from three Canadian hockey players.
Smyth: Eric Brewer, Ed Jovanovski and I are walking back through the Olympic village from breakfast. Pat Quinn is sitting on a park bench and he calls us over. He said, “You guys are as much a part of this as anybody. Just make sure you guys feel a part of it.” Right there, Pat had the knowledge of the whole picture. He demanded respect but he was laid back. Our chests puffed out a little bit. As young players, we knew we had our coach on our side.
Mike Pelino, Men’s Video Coach: Pat and I would sit almost nightly in the Olympic Village just shooting the breeze. He’d have a couple puffs on a cigar. He treated people with respect. He listened to everybody but was confident in his own beliefs and strong enough that he determined what had to be done. Pat was the perfect coach for that group because he wasn’t in it for himself, he was in it for everybody else.
On Feb. 21, 2002, the Canadian women squared off against the United States in a rematch of the 1998 gold-medal game that had left the Canadians utterly devastated. Sami Jo Small was the team’s third goalie in Nagano, and four years later in Salt Lake City, Small thought she’d be starting in the gold-medal game.
Sami Jo Small, Women’s Goalie: There were moments where I felt like this is going to be my game right up until they told me the night before [Kim St-Pierre would get the start]. We all go through moments that are really hard and just suck. It’s okay to feel those emotions. I wandered around the Olympic village for probably three or four hours with tears streaming down my face and just feeling like my Olympic dreams and hopes were over, not knowing how to rectify that I had never experienced anything like that before.
Finally, it dawned on me that I had two choices: I could either feel that way the next day and feel sorry for myself, or I could choose to be there for my teammates. It wasn’t a natural choice for me to make. When I woke up on the day of the gold-medal game, I tried to be there for my teammates and to put a big smile on my face. In the dressing room between periods, I was telling them all great things and encouraging them. It was a different role but, looking back now, the way I played my role, I tried to do the best that I could given the circumstance.
Canada got off to an incredible start, as Caroline Ouellette opened the scoring just 1:45 into the first period. But what followed was almost unthinkable, as Canada was called for eight straight penalties. It was a parade of Canadian women to the box in the first and second periods: Botterill, Wickenheiser, Therese Brisson, Vicky Sunohara, Becky Kellar, Ouellette, and Isabelle Chartrand all served time. Botterill got called twice for tripping.
Vicky Sunohara, Women’s Forward: We’re all feeling it inside. It’s easy to get pissed off. It’s easy to lose focus. But everybody stayed with it.
Kim St-Pierre, Women’s Goalie: We were able to battle one penalty after the other and we could feel how strong the girls were getting. I just had to stop the puck.
Botterill: It wasn’t the time to be in disbelief or to be frustrated. Credit to [coach] Daniele Sauvageau on the bench that there wasn’t a panic. This is something that was beyond our control. What you could control is how you responded to it.
Canada’s penalty kill was near-perfect, and though the Americans tied things up in the second period on a power-play goal from Katie King, three minutes later, Wickenheiser restored Canada’s lead with a wrist shot off a rebound in the slot.
Late in the frame, the teams were playing four-a-side. After Sunohara won a defensive-zone faceoff, Becky Kellar bounced a long pass up to Hefford, who was in full flight. It was Hefford versus Team USA goalie Sara DeCosta. Hefford went forehand-backhand, firing the puck past DeCosta to give Canada a 3–1 lead after 40 minutes.
Sunohara: We wanted to get a quick break. It was just brilliant. Nothing Jayna does surprises me. It was a great heads-up play. [Jayna is] so fast. She just took off and Becky saw her. It was a great play with Jayna pulling the puck down.
Hefford: We had players with reduced ice time because it was our penalty-killers that were logging all the time. I learned from that to stay in the moment, be present and focus on the 30 seconds in front of you.
I’m a player that likes to spread the zone. I just took off, the puck came down [from Kellar] and I scored. Looking back on it, it’s obviously a very special moment and the biggest goal of my career, but at the time, we were quickly able to refocus because there’s 20 minutes left. We are playing against a team that beat us all year.
Mark Lee, Play-by-Play Broadcaster: When I made the call, my voice had two octaves. It went up halfway through the score call. I just remember because of the adversity going on throughout the game, it kind of exploded out of me. When Jayna scored to take a 3–1 lead, it set the stage of whether the Canadian team can defend the two-goal lead, given what’s been going on in terms of the penalties they’ve been taking.
With just over four minutes to play in the third, Canada was called for one final infraction — the 13th penalty called on them, compared to six against Team USA. Karyn Bye cashed in on a power-play goal to make it 3–2. In the final minutes, the Americans pulled DeCosta, but even facing six attackers, the Canadians — with the men’s team in attendance and cheering wildly — hung on to win gold.
Sunohara: You don’t want that moment to end. It was the highlight of my career.
Hefford: Being in Salt Lake, a lot of our family being able to be there was special. We were with our families after the game. It wasn’t a wild and crazy party afterward, at least not initially. It felt like we were drained. It felt like we had given everything we had emotionally and physically to get to that point.
Smyth: Being there supporting the women’s team was special. We’re in a box together, high fiving, bringing that team camaraderie.
Peca: I didn’t think I would get as emotional up in the suite as I did watching them. To see how gutsy and resilient the Canadian women were in getting the gold medal did do a lot for us. It was like watching a motivational video in real time.
Ron MacLean, Television Host: Pat Quinn used that game as the pep talk before the gold-medal game for the men. He told his guys, “The women could’ve played that game for two weeks and they weren’t going to lose it. We have to be like that.”
Three days after Canada’s women won gold, the Canadian men squared off against the United States in the men’s final. The last time these two teams met in a best-on-best final, the Americans had won a best-of-three series in the 1996 World Cup — on Canadian soil, no less — to puncture Canada’s long run of dominance in those events. Mike Richter, the American goalie who’d stonewalled the Canadians in ’96, was once again staring down the Red-and-White. With six years of recent heartache and a half-century long Olympic gold drought in tow, Canada hit the ice.
Shanahan: I remember some of the younger players in Salt Lake [reacting to] just how calm [Yzerman] was before a big game. He would be sitting in his stall, 20 minutes before warmup. His sticks were already done. He would be working away at a crossword puzzle in the newspaper. I had a couple of guys come up to me and say, “Is this normal?” I was like, “Yes this is.” I’ve seen Steve Yzerman play a lot of big games and this is what it looks like.
It didn’t start well for Canada. Tony Amonte — who buried the World Cup-clinching goal for Team USA in ’96 — opened the scoring for the Americans 8:49 into the first period. Shortly thereafter, Brodeur was forced to make a sprawling save to keep the deficit to one goal. Then, Canada’s stars took over. Paul Kariya tied the game with 5:06 left in the opening frame after Mario Lemieux instinctively let a pass from Chris Pronger slide through his legs and onto Kariya’s blade. Jarome Iginla added another before the first period ended. The teams traded second-period goals, and Canada skated out for the final 20 minutes with a 3–2 lead.
Martin Brodeur, Men’s Goalie: We killed a penalty early in the third. I made a save on Brett Hull — right off my toe on the goal line, on a one-timer pass from Phil Housley. I’m always going to remember that save.
Brodeur did his part, and a pair of Canadian linemates put together performances in “game of his life” territory. First, Iginla potted his second of the day, providing some breathing room with 3:59 to play. Then came the dagger: With 80 seconds remaining, Sakic got his second, swooping in alone on Richter and releasing his classic wrister to the blocker side, bulging the twine and sending everyone associated with Team Canada into a state of delirium. In the stands, Gretzky raised two fists and pumped them like he was punching a hole in the roof. From Newfoundland to B.C., Canadians belted out screams, matching the excitement of play-by-play man Bob Cole.
Kevin Lowe, Men’s Assistant GM: Up until Joe’s [final goal] was scored, there wasn’t that much celebrating. The stakes are high and the momentum can shift quickly. You never start celebrating until it’s 100 per cent in the bag. That’s what that goal did.
Iginla: It was neat to be a part of Sakic’s line. He was just flying.
Tambellini: It was the first time that my stomach felt okay, that I could breathe. You can see the elation released from Wayne and Kevin. When you win like that, it’s not just the team that wins, the country wins.
MacLean: I was listening to Bob Cole. He turned the word ‘Joe’ and made it into three syllables. “Gee-ooo-ooh Sakic! That makes it 5–2 Canada! Surely that’s going to be it!” There’s no explaining Cole and musicality. It was an amazing performance by the best that ever was.
Smyth: There’s no media in the locker room, just your team. We stayed there for two-and-a-half hours, soaking it all in.
Brodeur: My three boys were there. My wife, who was pregnant with my daughter, was there. It was a special moment living it with my father [Denis Brodeur], who won Olympic bronze in 1956. He couldn’t wait to bring his own Olympic jersey with his medal to take a picture with me in my Olympic jersey and my medal.
Mike Modano, Team USA Forward: One of the all-time great games. It compares to the 1996 World Cup. Canada was a pretty stacked team.
Trent Evans, Ice-maker: I put a loonie in the ice on Tuesday, Feb. 5. On Thursday, I told [fellow icemaker] Dan Craig that I placed the loonie. The organizing committee told me to take the loonie out. Instead of taking it out, before the preliminary games, I painted over top of the loonie. I melted the ice. The loonie was covered.
When the Canadian women won, some of them were huddled around centre ice, trying to find the loonie. Wayne Gretzky was up in the stands, saw this, and phoned Bob Nicholson. Gretzky said to Bob, “You got to get the girls away from centre ice. We don’t want that much attention over centre ice.”
After Canada’s win in the men’s gold-medal game, I have the loonie in my hand and I give it to Kevin Lowe. He and I walked off the ice towards the bench and his wife, Karen, took a couple of pictures of us with the loonie. We were holding it up like we had just won the Stanley Cup. Kevin gave me the loonie back and said, “This is too good a story. You have to give it to Wayne Gretzky.” I walked into the dressing room and everyone gathered around. I hand the loonie to Gretzky and he [explains] how this loonie survived and we won two gold medals out of it.
Since the double-gold performance in 2002, Canada’s men and women have combined to win six more Olympic gold medals. From Sidney Crosby’s 2010 golden goal in Vancouver to Marie-Philip Poulin’s unending heroics — she scored her third (third!) Olympic gold medal game-winner in Beijing — there have been more than a few unforgettable moments since Salt Lake City for Canada’s hockey teams. But the 2002 Games remain special, both for the way things unfolded in Utah and how it set the table for things to come.
Shanahan: The dressing room had no strangers. It was great to just sit around the dressing room, our gold medals around our necks. We had a few beers together. I remember Kevin Lowe said, “My only regret is not seeing how good this team would be in another week,” because the team was really just starting to come together.
Eric Lindros, Men’s Forward: We didn’t start off great, let’s not kid ourselves. But we got things going and by the end of it, it was a big red-and-white machine.
Hefford: You look at the stars of the women’s team right now. They remember . Marie-Philip Poulin or Brianne Jenner, those players grew up with 2002 being an important moment in their young careers. That moment probably inspired parents to put their daughters in hockey for the first time.
Campbell-Pascall: The 2002 Olympics put women’s hockey on the map for this country. It set the tone for what women’s hockey was going to become in this country.