February 24, 2002, 20 years ago today: The Canadian men’s ice hockey team wins the Olympic gold medal for the first time in 50 years at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. The Canadians beat the USA 5-2. But the celebration didn’t compare to the one eight years later, when Canada beat the Americans for the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympiad. Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan would become the second and third players ever to win Olympic gold and the Stanley Cup in the same year in June when the Detroit Red Wings won the 2002 NHL crown.
NHL players were first allowed to play in the Winter Olympics in 1998, but the Americans in particular didn’t exactly understand the Olympic spirit. After they were eliminated by the eventual gold medlaists from the Czech Republic, some U.S. players barged through a door to spray sleeping goalie Mike Richter with a fire extinguisher. Other players on the U.S. team trashed their rooms at their hotel. But NHL participation in Olympiads went much smoother after that and continued through 2014.
The league declined to send players to PyeongChang in 2018 over concerns about the length of the Olympic break required in the middle of the NHL season. This year, with its season already disrupted mightily by COVID-19 problems, the NHL turned down the Beijing Olympics as well. The league is hoping to return to the Winter Games in 2026, though.
After the Canadian triumph in 2002, Sweden would be the upset winner in Turin in 2006. But Canada came back to win the next two gold medals. With NHL players missing, the “Olympic Athletes From Russia” took the tournament in 2018, and Finland won its first men’s hockey gold medal this month in the Beijing Games. The U.S. men haven’t won gold in the sport since the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid in 1980.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)