As far as big game experience goes, Shea Weber had that covered long before the puck dropped on the Olympic gold medal game.
The Sicamous, B.C., native had been through a Memorial Cup final in front of home fans in Kelowna, played in an IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal game with thousands of Canadian fans cheering the team on in Grand Forks, N.D. and suited up for a pair of IIHF World Championship gold medal games.
There was nothing he hadn’t seen … until he stepped on the ice in Vancouver on February 28.
“The biggest thing was just walking down the tunnel to the ice for warm-up,” Weber says, looking back almost four months later. “Seeing the crowd – they were going nuts for warm-ups. The place was already packed so to see all the support, all the red and white and flags everywhere, it was a special feeling."
The support was nothing new – all of Canada’s games, and Olympic events in general in Vancouver, had been a sea of red and white – but this was something different; this was Canada’s game, and the biggest prize in the international game was on the line.
Needless to say, it made for a restless night leading up to the Canada-U.S. showdown.
“It was definitely a tough night to sleep,” Weber says. “You are thinking a lot about the game, but you want to make sure you have a good sleep to be ready for the next day. For a lot of us, it was the biggest game of our careers so it was fun to wake up that morning and realize we were going to play for a gold medal.”
Once Weber got to the rink it was business as usual as he and his teammates went through the same pre-game routine as they had for each of Canada’s six previous games, trying to ignore the sound of 18,000 fans filling Canada Hockey Place, all of them with Canadian gold on their minds.
“The dressing room wasn’t overly talkative but it wasn’t dead silent either,” Weber says of the pre-game atmosphere. “Guys would say stuff here and there to get each other motivated but I don’t think we really needed to worry about guys being motivated. It was more making sure everyone was prepared. Everyone was going to be amped up and excited to play.”
When the puck dropped it was the Canadians who carried the play, outshooting the Americans 10-8 in the opening 20 minutes and taking a 1-0 lead after one period on Jonathan Toews’ goal. Seven minutes into the second it was 2-0 when Corey Perry buried a loose puck past Ryan Miller, and the Canadians fans could sense a golden moment coming.
On the Canadian bench, however, the players in red and white knew better.
“During the game, it was tough to really sit back and take things in,” Weber says. “We never thought two goals were going to be enough.”
Ryan Kesler cut the lead to one five minutes after Perry’s goal, setting up a wild third period and leading to Zach Parise’s tying goal with 25 seconds to go, a goal which Weber had a front-row seat for.
“I was on the ice when they tied it,” he says. “I was so frustrated and angry at that point. But once we got back into the room (prior to overtime), guys were reminding each other there was nothing we could do about it. If we get the next goal, it’s not going to matter.”
And few Canadians will ever forget that next goal.
Sidney Crosby’s overtime winner will forever have its place in Canadian hockey history, right up there with memorable markers from Paul Henderson and Mario Lemieux. It was a goal seen by a record number of Canadian television viewers and will go down a ‘where were you when’ moment.
So what did Weber think of the goal?
“I didn’t actually see it go in,” he says with a laugh. “I was just coming across the ice for a change. I was making sure that Drew (Doughty) jumped over, making sure the change happened, and the next thing I know, the guys are jumping over the boards, everyone was going to celebrate.”
The rest of the day is a blur to Weber – the gold medal ceremony on the ice, the dressing room after the game, seeing his family at Molson Canadian Hockey House – but there are a few moments that stick.
“I definitely wasn’t too worried about getting out of my sweaty gear,” he says. “I got to shake hands with the Prime Minister after the game in the dressing room, we got some pictures taken with him … it was just all hard to believe – we were just trying to take it all in, trying to make the moment last forever.”
That’s not something Weber should worry about. An Olympic hockey gold medal, on home soil no less, isn’t something Canadians will forget anytime soon.