FORT ERIE, Ont. – Oh, Canada, how could you?
Moments after their women’s hockey team broke the hearts of American hockey fans in the 2014 Olympic final, our friendly neighbors to the north were pledging to do it all over again today – this time in the men’s semi-final game.
“You’re going to lose that one, too. It’s our sport,” Jay Payne said to an American reporter between sips of a Labatt Blue beer.
Enthusiasm across the border for this afternoon’s game between the U.S. and Canada was higher than a Sochi slalom run, following the Canadian women’s stunning come-from-behind overtime win against the Americans on Thursday.
There was hooting and hollering and, yes, a little good-natured gloating.
Jenn Micallef, who wore a Canada Olympic T-shirt and blazing red scarf while tending bar at the Fort Erie Golf Club on Garrison Road, leaped into the air upon witnessing the winning goal.
“Again, the United States loses to Canada,” she declared, as if it should be the headline for a newspaper story. “Let’s carry this over to tomorrow’s game.”
Larry Gibson played hockey at Colgate University against some of the members of the American men’s team that made its improbable run to Olympic hockey gold in 1980 – which came to be known as the “Miracle on Ice.”
Gibson, who owns the Fort Erie Golf Club, came up with his own nickname for the women’s final.
“We’re going to call that one the Sochi Miracle,” he said.
A women’s card club at the golf facility put their game on hold to watch the Canadian women rally and send the game into overtime.
Toward the end of regulation, with the U.S. team clinging to a 2-1 lead, a hush came over the room as the puck slid the length of the ice and clanged off the post of Team Canada’s empty net.
That’s when Bev Miller got up and walked over to Micallef with a wine glass.
“Sorry, Jen but I need a drink for this,” Miller said.
Moments later, with less than a minute left in regulation play, the Canadian women tied the game, causing a frenzy.
“A gold medal game should go into overtime, especially when it’s Team Canada versus Team USA,” said Micallef.
Miller couldn’t let out a sigh of relief until the game was over.
“Just three minor heart attacks,” she said with a laugh. “But that was a good game, and we do feel bad for the Americans.”
Team USA hasn’t captured Olympic gold in men’s hockey since that fairy tale 1980 performance. It lost to Canada in 2010, when superstar Sidney Crosby slipped a goal past Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller in overtime to cinch the goal medal.
So far in this Olympics, the favored Team Canada – which is loaded with some of the biggest stars in the National Hockey League – hasn’t been as impressive as the American team.
Some Canadian fans are wary of today’s matchup.
Still, the women’s victory seemed to instill a sense of renewed confidence in the Canadian men.
“You think this was a good game. Tomorrow will be even better,” Gibson said.
Payne was among a few dozen people watching the women’s game inside He’s Not Here, a tavern on Niagara Boulevard.
Payne looked out the window, past the Canadian and American flags hanging on the walls, and pointed across the Niagara River toward Buffalo.
The proximity only added to the allure of today’s game.
“When you’re this far away, there’s a hell of a lot of rivalry,” said Payne. “I don’t mean to word it like this, but when you can see the enemy, it’s more intense.”
Still, he added, “pretty much any country is our enemy when it comes to hockey.”
Hockey has long been an international sport, but Canada always will be its original home – and the game remains an enormous source of pride for many Canadians. (Remember how Canadian fans hugely outnumbered Americans at HSBC Arena during the matchup of Team USA versus Team Canada in the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championship? That, too, was a win for Team Canada, by the way.)
The U.S. might field better teams for the gridiron and baseball diamond, but it has yet to surpass Canada on ice, said Randy Epp of St. Catharines.
“Sometimes what happens is, Americans tend to be sometimes too proud, and this is our only chance to do the same to them,” Epp said.
The U.S./Canada rivalry was being stoked on this side of the border, as well.
The Amherst Pizza & Ale House sent out a tweet Thursday saying it would refuse to sell Canadian beer during today’s game.
For all of their passion, Canadian fans exhibited not an ounce of hostility against the American team – or American beer for that matter.
Brothers Justin and Josh Newman drank Bud Lights at He’s Not Here and said they would support Team USA in the gold medal game if it defeated Team Canada. The Newmans said they were huge fans of Phil Kessel, the Maple Leafs star who has been among the American team’s best players in the Olympics.
“Yeah, we have a rivalry, but we have a respect, too,” added Payne. “If I got a choice between the States or a European team, I’ll pick the States.”