The most popular Canadian athlete in the E Center in Salt Lake City last Friday afternoon sat in section 124, row 22. That may have had something to do with the fact that the Canadian hockey team got waxed 5-2 by the Swedes. Then again, it may not. Mike Weir lives in the Salt Lake suburb of Draper, but his heart belongs to his home country. Weir, the Canadian Male Athlete of the Year in 2000 and '01, missed two of his favorite tournaments, the Buick Invitational in San Diego and the Nissan Open in Los Angeles, to soak in the Winter Olympics. "This," said Weir, "is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Weir grew up in Sarnia, Ont., but played golf at BYU, where he met his wife, Bricia. He's accustomed to the quizzical looks he gets when people discover he doesn't live in Orlando, Dallas or one of the other Tour ghettos. "Taking time off in the winter isn't really difficult for me," Weir says. "It's how I grew up. I started playing golf when I was eight or nine. I've been on skates since I was two."
Golf and hockey are brother sports in Canada, where one in five people 12 or older tees it up. Weir plays in Wayne Gretzky's charity golf tournament every summer and counts Mario Lemieux as a friend. It's that kind of connection to hockey and its luminaries that sent Weir to see the Latvia- Slovakia game on Feb. 10. Last Friday, Weir had a guy day, along with three people close to him: his brother Jim, who runs mikeweir.com; his golf coach at BYU, Carl Tucker; and his caddie, Brendan Little. They drove up to Sundance for a morning of skiing and came back to Salt Lake City for the game against the Swedes. On his website Weir had predicted a 7-3 victory for Team Canada, and he proudly displayed his allegiance, wearing a sweatshirt with CANADA stitched across the front. When Canadian defenseman Rob Blake fired the puck past Swedish goalie Tommy Salo only 2:37 into the game, Mike and his friends doled out high fives. Later in the first period, when tire fans in section 124 tried to start a wave to the tune Tequila!, Mike was right there with them. "It's nice being a fan, cheering the guys on," he said.
The compliment was returned by Team Canada players. When forward Joe Nieuwendyk, whose regular gig is with the Dallas Stars, was told that Weir skipped the Nissan Open for the game, he said, "No way! That's awesome. We're big Mike Weir fans. We play our own Ryder Cup on the Stars, the Can-Am Cup. We always threaten to fly in Mike."
Between the first and second periods Weir walked to the concourse and stood against a door to a luxury suite, watching the Canadian fans walk by. "I get recognized in Salt Lake a little bit," he said, "but not a whole lot. It's a different world when I go home." As if on cue, three fans from Toronto approached with a camera, asking for a picture. They set down their drinks in front of the door. After the photograph, a woman walked up to enter the suite and asked Weir to move the cups. He looked at her and said, "Aren't you Bonnie Blair?"
"Yes," she replied.
Weir introduced himself.
"Mike!" Blair said excitedly. "I didn't recognize you out of uniform!" Blair pulled out her camera and, along with her husband, Dave Cruikshank, and their three-year-old son, Grant, posed with Weir too. When Blair and her family had left, Weir said, "That was cool. I'd never met her."
Shortly after the second period began,
Team Canada fell apart. Niklas Sundstrom's goal at 6:06 left Weir looking as if he had just rimmed out a three-footer. When Mats Sundin scored 4� minutes later, Weir bent over and covered his face with his hands. By the end of the period Sweden was ahead 5-1, and Weir said, "I'm as shocked as anybody."