The new millennium begins with the end of an era as thousands in Montreal mourn the death of Maurice Richard. Meanwhile, the future of hockey appears cloudy. Registration for minor hockey, including girls leagues, is at an all-time high, but in many ways the system is broken. With players, and their parents, dreaming of big-money contracts, pressure at all levels of amateur hockey nears the boiling point. When a referee is attacked on the ice by enraged University of Moncton players, it becomes clear that it's time to reexamine how the game is played, taught and coached.
Enter Ken Dryden, the cerebral five-time Vezina Trophy winner who has emerged as an outspoken proponent of sweeping reforms to minor hockey. Called upon to investigate the Moncton incident, Dryden issues a biting rebuke to a game that he feels has lost its moral compass.
Following the release of his report, Dryden is tabbed by Hockey Canada to chair the groundbreaking Open Ice Summit, which draws anyone from professional players to amateur volunteers to Toronto in the summer of 1999 to voice their concerns. Former NHLer Steve Larmer pitches the fun-first philosophy he uses with his team of eight-year-olds in Peterborough, while volunteer coach Richard Jamieson draws up a program in western Quebec that rewards teams for avoiding the penalty box. Across Canada, the consensus is to discourage overly physical play and reemphasize speed and skill.
While amateur hockey remains in need of repairs, the women's game flourishes like never before. Former Team Canada captain France St. Louis offers young girls the sort of expert instruction to which she never had access, while current national team star Hayley Wickenheiser gets a chance to practice with the Philadelphia Flyers. Thanks to Canada's Charter of Rights, playing with the boys is nothing new for Wickenheiser, who has played at the highest level from a young age.
In the NHL, what's old is new again. With his team drifting toward bankruptcy, Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux decides to suit back up. Rejuvenated and free of pain for the first time in years, Super Mario quickly improves his team's on-ice performance as well as its bottom line. Idle time doesn't sit well with Wayne Gretzky, either. Still stinging from missing out on an Olympic medal as a player in Nagano, the Great One agrees to oversee Canada's entry for the Salt Lake City Games and quickly gets Lemieux on board.
Fortunately for Gretzky and Co., there's another Team Canada watching out for them in Salt Lake. After landing the job of preparing the rink for the Olympic Games, Trent Evans and his team of icemakers from Edmonton decide to plant a lucky loonie at centre ice. Evans lets the Canadian women's team in on his secret before their championship game against the United States, and the ladies walk away with their first Olympic gold medal.
As captive audiences assemble back home and Canadian soldiers watch intently from Afghanistan, the loonie's luck carries on as Canada defeats the United States for the country's first men's Olympic hockey gold since 1952. Overjoyed, and a bit relieved, Canadians join wild celebrations from coast to coast and around the world.
The long-overdue gold medals spark a period of dominance by Canada at the international level, but the country is quickly reminded that it's not alone in the hockey universe when the men's team finishes out of the medals at the 2006 Torino Olympics.
At the same time, Canadian women's hockey continues to thrive as the national team captures its second straight gold, thanks largely to the high-scoring Wickenheiser, who is fresh of a stint with a men's pro team in Finland.
The entertaining Olympic tournaments help salve the still-fresh wounds from the cancellation of the 2004-05 NHL season, the result of a bitter labour dispute between millionaire players and billionaire owners. The lockout marks perhaps hockey's darkest hour, but the NHL returns for the following season to show Canadians what they already know � that hockey is here to stay. After all, the game is a part of our history. And a part of our future.