Friday marked my last day in Vancouver and, as I had mentioned, I had a ticket to just one game - Latvia vs. the Czechs. Well, couldn't go out with juuust one so I went out and grabbed a ticket to the Swedes vs. the Belarussians.
Tickets were available all over town and it was no big task finding a good seat. A storefront offered a private suite ticket for just $75 and the plenitude of scalpers were selling at less than face. I may have even overspent for a center ice, last row upstairs ticket - $60 for an $80 seat - but I am a big fan of being able to stand during games so I didn't mind forking over the monopoly money.
As Patrick Hoffman mentioned in the comments of the last post, Henrik Lundqvist did not start for Sweden. That wasn't a big surprise but it was a bit shocking that he didn't even dress. Watching warmups iceside, a fellow New Yorker came up to me and asked if I had also flown across the continent to watch a player not play. We glanced around the arena but didn't see any sign of our favourite netminder so there wasn't even the opportunity for a photo or auto. Having at least caught Hank's opener against the Germans, I wasn't as upset as my fellow Ranger fan but was certainly empathetic to the poor guy.
I wish I could say that at least he saw a good game but most of the match was excruciating. There were kids sleeping, adults reading newspapers and plenty of traffic around the concourses even with the puck in play. After the Swedes took a 2-0 lead in the first 10 minutes, nothing really happened for a long span. There weren't many Belarussian fans to sing or chant and the Swedes are too reserved to roar, so it was quiet and quite dull.
The Mule Johan Franzen scored in the second before Dmitry Meleshko (oh yeah, him) responded with a power play goal. Still, the game limped into the third period as a sleeper. But, Meleshko came through with his second of the afternoon and suddenly the Canadians in the building woke up to cheer on Belarus but a miracle comeback was all for naught as Danny Alfredsson scored his second of the game in the final minute to end the festivities. Prior to puck drop Marc Denis interviewed Alfredsson's dad so it must have been nice for the 'kid' to score two in front of his family.
Still, it was a sleeper of a game. The one thing I took out of it was Nikolai Stasenko - a Ranger season ticket holder ended up sitting next to me (small, small world) and he pointed the kid out after the second period. Stasenko is 23 years old, six-foot-four, 220 and plays defense for Amur Khabarovsk in the KHL. And he was outstanding for Belarus. Used his size well, used his stick well, was quick and smart with the puck and made a fantastic dive to break up a two-on-one in the third. Wouldn't be shocked to see someone make a play for him ...
I absolutely would not be surprised to hear rumours of a return to the NHL by that Jagr guy. The cold of Siberia certainly has done nothing to siphon away his scoring ability. Jaromir scored for the Czechs as they beat the Latvians in the 4:30 game. He is good and could certainly be huge for say, Pittsburgh, this spring. Seeing as he wouldn't have to be a leader, he could just play and cap off his NHL career with a real Cup run. We'll just have to see I guess.
But back to Friday's game. As I mentioned before the Olympics, I heard that the Latvian fans are passionate people and they did not disappoint. While there weren't many of them, they kept the torch going for their team even as they were getting creamed by the Czechs. But when Kristaps Sotnieks jumped out of the penalty box and easily beat Tomas Vokoun on a breakaway, those Latvian few were joined by the vast majority of the building to unleash a deafening roar. And when the Latvians scored again three minutes later?
The. Place. Went. Wild.
Screaming, yelling, singing, flag waving, dancing, high fiving, hugging ... it was amazing. Sure the Latvians went on to lose 5-2 but a good time was still had and I feel lucky to have ended my Olympic experience with the energy that filled Canada Hockey Place. I had some people I had to meet, beers to drink and packing to do so I didn't even bother watching the 5-0 bombing of the Germans by the Finns in the nightcap. I would imagine it would have been bittersweet at best.
So this marks the end of my Olympic saga this time around and I have to recommend it to everyone and anyone. There is just something different, something special about the atmosphere that differentiates it from NHL action and it is well worth experiencing. Only four more years until Sochi!