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Postcards from Salt Lake
Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006


Reporter's patriotism trumps objectivity

By DAVID SHOALTS
Friday, February 22, 2002

Well boss, we have a confession to make.

We don't know how this happened, but those journalistic principles we all hold so dear went out the window the other night. All we can say in our defence is that the same thing happened to one of our writing heroes, former Globe and Mail columnist Trent Frayne, back in 1972 under similar circumstances.

That was at the final game of the Summit Series, and Trent was in Moscow to chronicle the greatest comeback in Canadian sport. Long after Paul Henderson scored the most famous goal in our hockey history, Trent made a confession in his memoirs.

Trent, who liked to refer to himself and his colleagues as steely-eyed correspondents or, more often, ink-stained wretches, said he heard this ungodly screaming when Henderson put the puck behind Vladislav Tretiak. Then he realized it was him, cheering himself hoarse in full patriotic fervour.

We didn't get quite that carried away, but it was close. It was the gold-medal women's hockey game between the Canadians and the Americans, and we just about went over the glass to get to the referee.

In more than 20 years of covering hockey games it was the first time your servant was seized with a rooting interest that didn't involve making a deadline or hoping a city like New York or Boston would make the playoffs.

It has never happened in a National Hockey League game and I'm pretty sure it won't when the Canadian men play for the gold medal Sunday. Their status as well-compensated professionals allows us to maintain the proper distance.

But this was the biggest game in the lives of these Canadian women. They don't have seven-figure contracts or endorsements. All they have is the Olympics, and some of them gave up jobs to be here. Okay, so we're softies.

When the game started, we knew this was completely different than any assignment we ever had. Your servant can't recall being so nervous at any other event.

By the final few minutes of the first period, as our women had to kill off penalty after penalty, the tension was unbearable. By now, all of Canada knows all about that referee, so we won't waste any more words on her here.

Then it happened. During a ferocious American flurry on the power play, the puck landed in front of Canadian forward Vicky Sunohara, one of the desperate penalty killers. She had lots of room in front of her to skate the puck out of the zone and eat up the clock.

"Skate!" someone sitting in the press box yelled. Actually, "Skate!" is the only part of the quote we can repeat in a family newspaper. Nothing personal, Vicky, but it was a tense moment.

When my colleague Al Maki turned and looked in astonishment, your servant realized it was him. Yes, boss, me, the guy who made fun of four Latvian reporters in the men's preliminary round when they jumped up and cheered wildly in the press box each time their countrymen scored.

Then in the second period, with the referee unceasing in her efforts to keep the penalty box full of Canadians, we almost lost it. We lept to our feet after one particularly egregious call, turned around and said loudly, "Am I missing something here? Is this ref at her first hockey game?"

The press box here at the E Center is built right into the main stands. The top of the glass was only a few steps away and the ref was standing right in front of me. The temptation was mighty, but we resisted.

Now, before you get too hot, boss, just remember you are not without sin here. That was you screaming into my cell phone about the ref, wasn't it?

It was then we realized we were in enemy territory. All around were American reporters. Al Maki had retreated to another seat after the first outburst. There was nothing but stony looks. So we sat down. And shut up.

But it was hard, boss, it was hard.

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