Work in Sports
What makes Canada great? Did you see Game 5?
Posted: Sunday April 23, 2000 02:30 AMBy Kostya Kennedy, Sports Illustrated
TORONTO -- As Canada's hockey teams battle for financial well being, some hardline bean-counters wonder why the NHL should even concern itself with bailing them out. There are six Canadian clubs in a nation of some 28 million, after all -- a far greater proportion than the 22 teams who serve the 280 million in the U.S. Besides, Canada has its midget leagues and junior teams to slake the nation's thirst.
If such cynics need evidence as to the NHL teams value to the spirit of Canada's game, Game 5 of the Toronto Maple Leafs playoff series against the Ottawa Senators could be exhibit "eh."
The series has been billed the Battle of Ontario, of course, and come Friday night, Ottawa and Toronto had each won two. Outside Air Canada Centre, fans held aloft placards reading "100% Canadian." Inside, the game was preceded by only one national anthem - "O Canada" sung in both English and French -- and most everyone sang along. The Toronto Raptors were about to begin an NBA playoff series against the New York Knicks; the Blue Jays had just spanked the almighty Yankees for the second day in a row at SkyDome, but this city only had eyes for the NHL.
For much of the game, the hockey was a dull by-product of the shaky finances. The Senators are a well-coached, fundamentally sound team but they have little money to spend on high-scoring stars. Thus they rely on a boring but effective defensive style and in this game they kept the mighty Maple Leafs in check after check.
Ottawa went ahead 1-0 in the second, and as the Senators soberly protected that lead -- limiting the Leafs to nary a shot on goal for most of the third period -- they lulled the home crowd into a relative sleep. The stands erupted most vociferously during a stoppage in play when the goosebump-raising beer commercial, "I am Canadian," ran on the big screen over center ice.
Then, deep into the third, the Leafs came alive. With seven minutes to go center Darcy Tucker walloped the Senators much-loathed goalie Tom Barrasso, sending him to the ice. Minutes later, with the Leafs again buzzing near the Ottawa goal, right wing Steve Thomas beat Barrasso with a blistering, high shot that tied the game at 1-1.
From there, a frenzy. Both teams flew with unbridled passion from end to end. Toronto goalie Curtis Joseph sprawled and leapt to bat away pucks and preserve the tie.
Overtime unfolded at an even higher pitch and with some 14 minutes gone by Ottawa center Vaclav Prospal nearly won the game with a wrist shot. But Prospal's shot went wide and bounced off the rear boards and suddenly here was Toronto coming back the other way. Sergei Berezin carried the puck swiftly down the left side. Thomas skated with him on the right. Only Ottawa defenseman Sami Salo came between this onrushing pair and the net.
Salo played the puck carrier. Berezin made the pass. And Thomas sent the puck past Barrasso.
The faithful cheered madly and waved sheet-sized Maple Leafs flags. A pair of brave men in Ottawa sweaters shouted they were "down, but not out." The Toronto players mobbed one another and Thomas skated around and applauded the fans. One might have thought it was a Cup they'd won, though it was only the latest game in the Battle of Ontario.Kostya Kennedy is a Sports Illustrated staff writer covering the Stanley Cup playoffs for the magazine. He will check in periodically with postcards from the edge of the action.