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HOCKEY

By Roy MacGregor,
The Globe and Mail
March 1, 2010

A scandal of minuscule proportions

It was their Olympic Moment - and, in an accidental way, mine.

Never for a moment of any kind - Olympic or professional - did I think of it as a story other than a charming and endearing tale. Perhaps I should resign in disgrace from the profession of journalism.

As it happened, I was one of the very few actual witnesses to the postgame, on-ice celebration by the Canadian women's hockey team last Thursday. You will know it as the "booze and cigars" scandal that shook the Canadian Olympic moment to the very core.

The women had defended their gold medal wonderfully with a sparkling 2-0 victory over archrival United States. They had leapt upon their brilliant goaltender Shannon Szabados with a fervour that suggested, for a moment, that she would become the Lucky Loonie under the ice that the men would play last Sunday for their gold.

They had screamed and screeched and hugged each other and burst into tears and, in a lovely gesture, had paraded about the ice with their Canadian flags and saluted a delirious crowd. Some actually shook and shivered as their medals were placed over their necks and the flag and anthem raised to the roof.

That, I thought, was the story, and had been happily reworking it with quotes later in the day, when the packed arena had long since emptied.

The ice had just been resurfaced. It glistened invitingly. The ice-surfacing machine was still out when the first unmistakable scrape of a skate blade on ice floated up into the press area where few of us were still working.
I looked down and smiled to see that the gold-medal winners had still not taken off their uniforms or skates, still had not had enough of their special moment.

Several came skating out, the ice resurfacer cheering them as he saw what they were doing, even though it meant he would have to do his work all over again.

Two of the women - Meaghan Mikkelson and Rebecca Johnston - moved to the far end and began making circles in the ice like figure skaters, unaware that from where those of watching stood, their freshly cut circles were very close to forming the Olympic symbol. How serendipitous.

Several more players came out. They had cameras. One was carrying a bottle of champagne. Others had beer. One had an unlighted cigar. Another cigar appeared and a lighter. Soon, the almost-forgotten smell of cigar smoke floated into the press area.

The former captain of the Canadian women's team, Cassie Campbell Pascal, was still there, packing up from her broadcasting job, and the players called her down. She congratulated them and, wisely, left them to their special moment.

As everyone should have.

The resurfacer asked if he could have his photograph taken with them and they were delighted to accommodate, forming an impromptu team photo at centre ice with the ice machine as backdrop. He let them try the machine.

All, presumably, had driver's licences.

Two of them skated to a quiet part of the rink, lay on their backs, lifted their legs high in the air and shook their skates like little children playing in the snow.

I do not know if I have seen anything so sweet and so very, very, very Canadian.

It never occurred to me that I would write about this except, perhaps, to show that there is something special to being on an Olympic team that goes far beyond any games or medals.

But someone must have thought it was scandalous.

Women smoking cigars? Women drinking champagne and beer? Didn't they just win an Olympic gold medal. And aren't they a hockey team?

But then someone looking for a peg found a peg - the woman with the beer was not only the one who had scored both Canadian goals but was ... wait ... wait ... 18 years old! And what's the drinking age in British Columbia?

Why it's ... 19.

Stop the Games. Call out the police. Charges. Disgrace. Take away their medals.

To me, there is only one thing equal to the embarrassment of a wire service deciding this was a news story of issue rather than an anecdote of great charm.

And that is that some people actually took it seriously.

Hockey Canada felt obliged to apologize for the women's behaviour. The International Olympic Committee even vowed to get to the bottom of this scandalous allegation of an 18-year-old Olympic gold medalist holding a beer - suggesting perhaps the beer in hand wasn't an official sponsor, who knows?

What Hockey Canada should have done, rather than apologize to women who had already been insulted that same day by the president of the IOC calling the future of their game into doubt, was offer a single response that might not exactly be in keeping with Canada's image of a people so polite they apologize as often as other people blink.

A raised middle finger.


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