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B.C. boys help Canada win Olympic hockey gold
VANCOUVER – Grown in B.C. was golden for the Canadian hockey team at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
A quartet of British Columbia defencemen wore gold medals around their necks after Canada captured the 2010 Winter Olympics men's hockey crown with a 3-2 victory over the United States at Canada Hockey Place on Sunday.
The tournament was a coming out party for Sicamous's Shea Weber, who was named to the Olympic tournament all-star team even though he's only 24 years old.
Prior to the final game, Weber had a point in every game with two goals and three assists. His blistering blasts from the point had opposing defencemen, and his own teammates stationed in front of the net, diving for cover. One shot was so hard it went right through the net and wasn't called a goal until officials checked the video replay later. Weber's thunderous check on superstar Alexander Ovechkin set the tone for Canada's 7-3 thrashing of Russia in the quarter-finals.
In the final, Weber logged 21:34 minutes of ice time, second on the team only to Chris Pronger, although he was on the ice for both American goals.
Hockey people have been high on Weber for a few years. Opposing teams fear his shot, his hits and his defensive play. But since he's with the Nashville Predators he plays in anonymity in a city where only country singers get publicity.
Since the big boy (six-foot-three, 213 pounds) was drafted in the second round, 49th overall in 2003, it might be considered he has overachieved. He's played 301 NHL games and has scored 158 points, including 59 goals. Not bad for a kid who played for the Sicamous Eagles as a 16-year-old when they won the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League title and the western Canadian junior B crown in 2002.
When Weber waffled about whether to be a forward or defenceman, his father James, a sawmill worker, told him to stick with the blueline because it would give him a better shot at a pro career.
And what a career it's been already.
Weber played a lot with Canadian captain Scott Niedermayer, a 36-year-old native of Cranbrook.
"[Canada's young players] stepped up in pressure situations. There's not a lot of room for error, they were very solid," said Niedermayer.
The Cranbrook native and former Kamloops Blazer has won everything in his storied career – Memorial Cup, world junior championship, four Stanley Cups, world senior championship and Olympic gold twice.
At the start of the tournament Niedermayer seemed to be a bit lost, but the Anaheim Duck got better and better as the tourney wore on.
"It's an experience I'll cherish forever, winning in Canada," said Niedermayer. "To give them something back is rewarding for us, it feels good. It's a great thing we were able to do."
Penticton's Duncan Keith had six assists in the tournament, including one on a second-period goal by Corey Perry. He was a defensive go-to guy for head coach Mike Babcock. Keith and Tsawwassen's Keith Seabrook were picked for the team because they've been studs playing together for the Chicago Blackhawks. But more and more eventually he was paired with youngster Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings who had a big breakout tourney himself.
"The whole Olympic experience makes you a lot better player. I definitely feel like going into the playoffs all the guys that competed is going to make them a better player and better suited to playing in the playoffs," said Keith.
Seabrook, on the other hand, slipped to being Canada's seventh defenceman getting on the ice for just under six minutes Sunday. But, he said, playing alongside Pronger and Niedermayer will make him a better player when he gets back to the Blackhawks for their playoff run.
The four weren't the only Canadian team members with B.C. connections. Goalie Roberto Luongo, of course, plays for the Vancouver Canucks. General manager Steve Yzerman was born in Cranbrook and spent his early minor hockey days in Kamloops before his family migrated to the Ottawa area. Assistant GM Ken Holland is from Vernon and is in the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame. Assistant coach Ken Hitchcock was the bench boss of the Blazers for several years. Forward Jerome Iginla, who set up Sidney Crosby's winning goal, also played junior in Kamloops. Even head coach Mike Babcock spent a year playing junior hockey in Kelowna. Vancouver Canucks trainer Mike Burnstein and equipment manager Pat O'Neill, who lives in Port Moody, were part of the team's support staff.