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Passion for the country's 'national pastime' high in Canada

VANCOUVER — Mykael and Debby Lundstedt won the lottery a year and a half ago.

Well, not the cash lottery. But they were definitely winners of the 2010 Olympics lottery.

The Portland, Ore., residents signed up to buy hockey tickets 18 months ago and got assigned time slots. They had no idea which teams they'd see face off in the 2010 Games.

"We just got super lucky," said Mykael, who had molded his hair into a Mohawk and painted an American flag on his face for the United States' game against Canada. "This is pretty amazing."

The Lundstedts and their 4-year-old son Odin were dressed in red, white and blue and enjoying the spring-like weather outside Canada Hockey Place (home of the Vancouver Canucks the rest of the time) Sunday afternoon. They were also soaking in both the atmosphere and enthusiasm of the Canadian fans who had been looking forward to the game the way a child waits for Christmas morning.

There wasn't any fear among the red-andwhite-clad throngs that Team Canada would disappoint — not on this day or -any other in these Games, their Games.

"They're not going to break our hearts," said Salim Rana, 22, a student from Victoria. He and his two friends were so decked out — red wigs, painted faces, wearing the jerseys of Canada's starters, and using the Canadian flag as capes — that other fans ask to take pictures with them.

After posing with some Russian fans, they turned to a bit of trash-talking. A mild exchange by U.S. standards with them chanting, "Go, Canada, Go!" and the Russians trying to out-do them with "Russ-ia! Russ-ia!"

Dasha Nikolava, 18, decked out in Russian hockey paraphernalia, said she loves the Canadian fans.

"I like that some people from Canada at our match cheer for us," she said. "They dressed like Canada, but they say, 'Go Russia!' "

Russia won the game 4-2 against the Czech Republic in the contest just prior to USA vs. Canada. They stuck around because, she said, "Canada's fans are a lot of fun."

Canadian fans are known for their manners, although their rivalry with their neighbors to the south brings out the roughneck in them, something they sheepishly admit.

"We really want to win every game," said Rod Harradence. "But we have to kick this team's (butt)."

Those fans who came to the stadium without tickets were having a hard time finding scalpers with the coveted tickets. One scalper, who didn't want to cough up his name for the newspaper, said he bought tickets yesterday for $4,500 and sold them hours later for $5,500. He had a few more and said he was asking $6,000.

Oh, and if the United States and Canada happen to oblige most fans and make it to that gold medal game, he'll be selling those for $12,000 each.

Yup, that's the price of hockey here in heaven.

Unless, of course, you won the lottery last year.

"There's a lot of pressure on them," said Debby Lundstedt. Adds her husband, "It's like they're playing for their lives."

They're certainly playing for their legacy.

Just ask Jim Craig what an Olympic moment can mean in your life. He was the goalie of the 1980 gold medal "Miracle on Ice" team that beat the Soviet Union. He was at Sunday's showdown, telling fans nothing lasts like Olympic glory. Nowadays, it's one of the few times the world's best play for something other than money, endorsements or fame. Those things might come, but the reason for representing is that your country's pride is on the line.

That aspect of the Olympics is apparent in all of the competitions, but with hockey being Canada's national pastime, those in the stands, on the streets or in watching from home feel a little more ownership, a little more pride.

Just in case the team needed any "luck," two new Canadian heroes, Alexandre Bilodeau, who won the country's first gold on home soil, and Jon Montgomery, who won gold in skeleton, were in the stands cheering on Team Canada.

"They're going to win the gold medal," said 23-year-old Harradence, who wears Sidney Crosby's jersey. "We have huge expectations, and they won't let us down."

Whether Team Canada wins gold or not, the fans of these players certainly didn't let their team down.

They came hours early; they planned to celebrate all night. Unfortunately for them, it didn't happen.

Though they were disappointed with the 5-3 loss to the United States, Canadians were already optimistic about the team's ability to bounce back. Some even stayed to sing their national anthem, while others left immediately seeking a place to drown their sorrows.

In these Games, where the home country hoped to "own the podium," it feels like the Americans have stolen something more than a meaningless tournament game.

It's almost too much to bear that the final goal came from a player Vancouver Canuck fans cheer for all season long — Canuck center Ryan Kesler.

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com