The gold rush ends at the rink

TURIN -- The Winter Olympics did not come to a screeching halt yesterday. It only seems that way.

Sadly, one of the greatest days in Canadian Olympic history ended in shock and gloom. There was a gleeful gold medal won in the morning, an overpowering gold medal won in the afternoon, but then a chance for any medal in the sport we value most was lost.

For the second time in three Winter Games -- since professional hockey players were allowed to take part -- Canada will not win any colour of medal in the prestigious men's hockey tournament. For the first time since 1988, the Canadians will not play for a medal at all.

All the great skates by the amazing Cindy Klassen, the come-from-nowhere story of Chandra Crawford, the shot rocks from Brad Gushue, won't alter the fact that Team Canada lost 2-0 to the Russians yesterday at Torino Esposizioni and was eliminated from the Olympic tournament. The Canadians saved their best for last, but their best wasn't nearly good enough.

"They have not a thing to be embarrassed about," coach Pat Quinn said of his players, talking with his face bright red, his expression grim. "I know they feel they let a lot of people down, including themselves ... This was our best game overall."

Their best game still was not good enough.

Their best game was their only game of the tournament with any speed, any real passion, anything resembling possibilities.

Only they waited too long to begin and then ended too early.

For some reason -- and there is no shortage of theories -- this collection of Canadian talent never transformed into a team. The players didn't mesh, offensively or defensively. They didn't reach each other. And in the beginning and in the middle and in the end, they couldn't score.

"We couldn't find a way to solve that," said Quinn, four years removed from the exhilaration of Salt Lake City. Four years ago he came home a hero, the coach of the first gold-medal team in 50 years -- the championship he cherishes.

Now he comes home to the second-guesses that await him, to the inevitable shots whenever Canadian hockey teams don't measure up.

"Nobody can make me feel any worse than I feel right now," Quinn said. "I don't feel terrific right now ... I'm proud of (my players). They worked hard. This is a good tournament. There aren't any guarantees.

"We came here to win gold ... We just couldn't find a way to solve our lack of scoring."

Five of the 13 Canadian forwards -- Todd Bertuzzi, Vinny Lecavalier, Rick Nash, Kris Draper and Ryan Smyth -- never did score a goal in the team's six games. One of them, the controversial Bertuzzi, whose addition to the team was questioned on so many fronts, took an undisciplined penalty in the third period of a 0-0 game yesterday and it was on that power play that young Alexander Ovechkin scored the goal that eliminated Canada.

"You can't just pick out one play and one penalty," Quinn said. "We took lots of them ... and we couldn't score on the power play. You can't pin any of this on any one guy."

Canada scored just 15 goals in six tournament games, seven of them against Italy, and in three of its final four games it didn't score at all. Of the final 12 periods of hockey, Canada played here, it managed to score goals in just one of those periods.

"Our effort was there," defenceman Rob Blake said, "our execution wasn't."

It was, disturbingly ironic, to watch the kid Ovechkin score the biggest goal yesterday, his fifth in six games, and watch another kid, Evgeny Malkin, killing all the Canadian penalties. It was disturbing because Canada left its youngest scorers, Sidney Crosby, Jason Spezza and Eric Staal -- 177 points of NHL scoring -- either home or on the taxi squad.

"I suppose we'll get second-guessed on the roster," Quinn said. "But these young men came out and played their hearts out.

"I believe we had a team capable of (winning) ... It's about opportunity, it's about a chance to be champion."

It's about deep regrets. Yesterday, at the end of a great day for Canadian sport, it was also about asking what went wrong.