This Canadian has waited longer for gold than South Tahoe rink |

This Canadian has waited longer for gold than South Tahoe rink

Column by Steve Yingling

Was there some middle-aged fool in your neighborhood wearing a silly red and white jersey yelling and screaming for no apparent reason Sunday afternoon?

Did you nearly call the police, or are you waiting for the next disturbance?

Excuse Mark Heidt, formerly of Ontario, for being proud of his country on Sunday. After all, the South Shore man began to wonder if he’d ever see Canada win a gold medal in men’s hockey.

“It’s been a long time,” said Heidt of Canada’s 50-year Winter Games gold medal drought in hockey that ended with a 5-2 victory over the United States in West Valley City, Utah. “There’s 25 million people in Canada and I bet all 25 million people were watching the game or had something to do with it.

“Every Canadian guy (Sunday) was living out his childhood fantasy with what happened. Hockey means just that much to every Canadian.”

Some of Heidt’s buddies from Ontario reminded him of that single-mindedness on Sunday when he phoned them after the first period Sunday.

“They were pretty excited, but as soon as the puck dropped (for the second period), it was, ‘OK, bye,'” Heidt said. “It’s such a national pastime there, you really can’t understand it unless you’re in the country. It’s been very difficult for Canada because they’ve seen their game be drawn away from the country.”

Down the road a bit, Sierra-at-Tahoe General Manager John Rice was bleeding like most Americans. However, Rice had one of the happiest mothers in the States on Sunday. Rice’s mother, Jane St. Pierre, grew up in Quebec and now resides in Anaheim, Calif.

“I called her,” said a sporting Rice. “It was great for their country. After they didn’t do well in the Alpine events to win hockey saved the whole Olympics for them.”

Their passion, or obsession with hockey, if you will, stems from Canadians never losing track of the puck — even if they leave their homeland and their failing knees won’t let them play as they once did.

“There’s always a game going on around your subdivision, whether you’re skating on a frozen pond of playing street hockey.” Heidt said. “Canadian winters aren’t easy. I played when it was 20 or 30 below and my feet were hurting and I was crying, but I didn’t care because I was out on the ice playing hockey.”

That devotion to the game is why Heidt advanced to AAA hockey before his knees gave out as a 19-year-old.

“I’m just so excited that there are great doctors who can now put us back together so that we can still play out our fantasies on the ice with a bunch of guys who went through the same things we did,” Heidt said.

When Heidt moved to the South Shore 10 years ago, one would have thought he was trying to distance himself from the game that means so much to him. The nearest full-sized rink was 45 minutes away at Squaw Valley and the closest NHL team played in San Jose.

Making matters worse, he had trouble finding a game on TV.

And then five years ago, Heidt was so close to recapturing some of his Canadian youth with the construction of the South Tahoe Ice Center and relocation of a semi-pro hockey team. But construction bills weren’t paid and the rink quickly turned into a BMX track.

But hockey players are a tough and a stubborn lot. Heidt stayed and his patience will be rewarded in April with the much-anticipated opening of the South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena.

“It’s going to be our privilege to introduce the game to South Lake Tahoe,” Heidt said. “There will be some challenges. But it should be a great goal for this community to make sure they want this (venture) to be successful. It’s going to take a lot of effort from a lot of people.”

No one will bring more enthusiasm and insight into the new rink than the Canadian transplant who was hooting and hollering Sunday afternoon.

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