SOCHI, Russia – As you've probably heard, President Obama and Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, bet a case of beer on the Olympic men's and women's hockey games between their countries while attending meetings in Mexico during the week.
So I figured it was my patriotic duty to make a similar wager with one of my fellow columnists from the land to the north. I bet a case of beer on Friday night's men's semifinal with my old pal, Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun.
I am now in hock to him for a case of Buffalo Lager.
It was a friendly wager. I felt it was time to offer a friendly gesture to the Canadians. I love their country. I always tell people that the close proximity to Canada was one of the unexpected benefits of moving to Buffalo – has it really been this long? – 25 years ago.
The problem with covering the Olympics is that there's a tendency to pay too much attention to the performances of your own country's athletes. Until I took in Friday's early hockey semifinal between Sweden and Finland, every event I saw involved athletes from the Sabres or the U.S.
All right, there was the visit to Stalin's dacha. But even then, I got criticized for being an ugly American, for failing to properly acknowledge the Soviet Union's role in helping win World War II.
There's a danger in seeming too nationalistic at the Games. That's why I always make sure to attend the Opening Ceremonies and marvel at the fantastic show put on by the host nation. It helps compensate for ignoring their athletes later in the Olympiad.
One of my chief regrets is never having the privilege of covering an Olympics in Canada. I just missed Calgary in 1988. Bucky Gleason handled Vancouver in 2010. A columnist from Denver told me Vancouver is the loveliest place in the world. I don't doubt it.
Canada has had a terrific Olympics. Gilmore Junio surrendered his place in 1,000-meter speedskating so Denny Morrison could race. Morrison won a surprise silver. I missed it. I was busy covering the Latvians' opening hockey game.
Ted Nolan and Zemgus Girgensons are “locals.” You concentrate on the locals and the bigger American stories. It saddens me, though, to think Canada isn't a local. I'll bet I can see it when I look out the window in the office down at The News.
I feel a much greater affinity for Canada than, say, Texas, Ohio or Florida. It has given me great beer, fine theater, friends with summer cottages, golf at Cherry Hill, wine country, the Tragically Hip and Joni Mitchell and, oh, an NBA team two hours away.
It's not part of my job description to root for the home team (you've probably figured that out by now). But when “our” ice dancers, Charlie White and Meryl Davis, beat Canada's team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, I probably came off as a bit of a homer. When the Canadian media complained about the judging, I dismissed it as their usual whining.
When the U.S. women's hockey team lost the gold medal game to Canada, I spent all my time with the American women, chronicling their despair. I took a mild swipe at the officiating, something I rarely do. I didn't talk to any Canadians, or laud their heroic comeback.
The thing is, I generally root for Canada at the Winter Olympics. It means more to them. Relatively speaking, they're much better than Americans on snow and ice. Through Friday, the U.S. has 27 medals to Canada's 24. They are tied at nine in golds.
The United States has a population of 316 million. Canada has 34.5 million people. You don't need a calculator to figure out which nation wins more winter medals per capita. In the history of the Winter Games, the U.S. had 253 medals as of Friday, Canada 145. Summer is a different story: The Americans have 2,400 medals, the Canadians 278.
Simmons says it matters to Canada if they beat us in the overall medal count. But it's not an obsession or anything. Hockey is the obsession. The notion that Russia was so emotionally invested in its Olympic team here? Come on, the reaction would have been 10 times greater if the Canadian men had bowed out meekly in the quarterfinals.
As for the medal count, the Canadians are mainly competing against themselves. The Canadian Olympic Committee uses medal counts to secure new funds. Coming into Sochi, the stated goal of the COC was beating the 26 medals they won in Vancouver – and perhaps finishing first overall. Five countries were separated by three medals at last check.
Come Friday, it was looking very close. They were actually worried that the men's hockey team might not medal. But they picked up a ninth gold medal in curling Friday evening to push them ever closer.
I stopped by the Ice Cube on my way to hockey to see the world's finest curling nation. The Canadian men didn't let me down. They jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the first three “ends” and crushed Great Britain, 9-3, for the gold. The Brits actually conceded with two ends to go.
That made me feel better, watching Canada in a sport that didn't involve the Americans. I also fulfilled a promise to my buddy, Chris Burke, to check out the curling venue. Chris holds curling bonspiels in his backyard, using frozen plastic jugs as stones.
Simmons told me the Canadians and British curling fans aren't too fond of one another. But it was pretty subdued at the Cube with the Brits hopelessly behind. The highlight was four Elvis imitators chanting “Who rocks the house? Canada rocks the house!”
Accuse me a lack of patriotism, but I have to say it: Canada rocks the Olympics. They rocked the Americans. Over a span of 24 hours, their men's and women's hockey teams killed our teams' gold-medal dreams.
And you know what? I'm happy for Canada, my good neighbor to the north. Even if they just cost me a case of beer.