More than two weeks after the fact, I am still thinking about the Canada’s bronze medal victory in hockey at the winter Olympics. I caught the last ten minutes of the game, exciting in its own right, and watched until the very end of the medal presentation, mesmerized.
It was clear to me that the Canadian team wanted this win. After all, the Czechs would be happy to be medaled in their stead. With three minutes left, and Canada leading by three, the Czechs scored. Then, Canada took a too-many-men penalty. The Czechs scored again. The score was then
6 – 4 with two minutes left. Am I watching a CFL football game, I asked myself, where no lead is safe? In the end, Canada prevailed. The joy is still infectious.
The ceremony itself had all the hallmarks of a gold medal presentation. The only thing missing was the singing of the national anthem. Blue carpets were stretched on the ice for the dignitaries. Officials methodically made their way down the line of players, placing the bronze medal around the neck of each player, and taking the time to convey a few words of congratulations. Every single player beamed. Each was ecstatic. Then, they converged to take a group photo. To commemorate a bronze medal!
I am thrilled for this group of men. When the NHL announced that it would not release its players, Hockey Canada looked to other professional leagues to build a team. According to the Toronto Star, thirteen players come from the KHL, four from the Swiss league, three each from Sweden and the American Hockey League, and one from Germany and Austria. Forward Andrew Ebbett explained the thrill: "What a special honour. A year ago, nobody in this locker room would even have been given a chance to be here. I’m 35 years old, and I never thought I’d be at the Olympic Games. I’ll cherish this one for a long time." In his congratulatory tweet, Peter Mansbridge echoed those sentiments.
At average age 31, these players were a mixed bag of sporadic NHLers, former NHLers and international players. That so many of them now in their thirties are still active players, though, speaks to their passion for the sport. For many, it was a career highlight. Ben Scrivens, the injured goalie, said, “This is forever,” he said. “This is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”
For me, the event shone a spolight on two essential life mindsets that, in my view, often get lost in the glare of the media emphasis on winning and being the best.
· Carpe diem. Opportunity doesn’t ask permission to interrupt the status quo. It arrives when you are making other plans. To seize it requires courage, grit, and hard work.
· Be grateful. More athletes left the Olympics disappointed, without medals or even best times. "Losing is painful, occasionally horrific and, for many Olympians, inevitable," Nathan Vanderklippe wrote in the Globe and Mail. Best, then, not to put onself on such a pedestal that a silver medal becomes an unworthy crumb. Bask in the sweet moments of life; they cushion the inevitable disappointments.
In moments like Team Canada’s bronze medal win, sports can inspire at a visceral level. At those moments, it can stop people in their tracks to reflect on the intrinsic reset value of private victories that, to general amazement, bear unexpected fruit in a public sphere.