(l-R): Team Canada's Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle, Jarome Iginla, Sidney Crosby and Chris Pronger pose for the team photo with the gold medals they were awarded after their overtime victory over the USA during the gold medal men's hockey game in Vancouver, BC Sunday, February 28, 2010 during the 2010 Winter Olympics. (John Mahoney / Canwest News Service)
VANCOUVER -- The great ones rise up in these moments, as though only their class of player is worthy.
In 1987, Wayne Gretzky passed to Mario Lemieux, ending a classic Canada Cup.
At the Vancouver Olympics, Canada’s Sidney Crosby had been having -- for him -- a quiet tournament, through six games. But in the game of his life, a titanic struggle against the United States, Crosby made thunder, charting Olympic history in Canada’s 3-2 victory in the gold medal game of the Vancouver Winter Games.
“I didn’t see it go in,” Crosby said, of his goal at 7:40 of OT. “I just heard everyone scream.
“Every kid dreams of this opportunity -- it could’ve been anybody else,” Crosby added.
His teammates disagreed.
“There’s nothing that Kid can’t do, or hasn’t done already,” said centre Jonathan Toews, Canada’s best player in the tournament. “We talked in the intermission, we said someone’s going to be the hero here -- it’s no coincidence he’s the guy.”
Or, as big Chris Pronger put it:
“Guys like that find a way.”
Crosby started the winning play himself, beating Brian Rafalski to the puck and chipping it into the corner where winger Jarome Iginla won a puck battle with Ryan Suter, and slid it back to Sid.
“He was yelling for it,” Iginla said of Crosby. “He just screamed.”
Then, a classic Crosby shot, low, hard, quick off the stick, underneath U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller. This was how America’s MVP viewed a final play that will go down with ‘Gretzky to Lemieux’ as one of the all-timers: Miller said he tried to be “aggressive” when he saw Crosby get the puck, reacted, not in time.
“I’ve seen that release before,” said Canadian goaltender Roberto Luongo. “It’s hard to pick up.”
Miller’s response to the sudden end was succinct: “I feel like shit,” he said, then walked away from the microphone on his way to the morgue of an American dressing room.
After he finally realized the puck was in, Crosby pulled the mouthguard from his mouth, threw his gloves and stick in the air and was mobbed by his teammates in the corner. Toews, exhausted from a shift, hesitated on the bench for a second, until he realized what the emptying bench meant. Afterward, Crosby skated around the ice waving a Canadian flag from a long pole, looking a little sheepish.
Grounded, low-key Sid, 22 and fresh-faced.
The all-Canadian hero from Cole Harbour, N.S.
“I’ve always been proud to be a Canadian,” Crosby said. “It doesn’t have to mean going to an Olympics. You could see the passion tonight, the passion for hockey, but also everything in general. I’m proud to represent that.”
The country couldn’t have a better representative. Long after the game had ended, executive director Steve Yzerman called Crosby a player of “destiny,” comparing him to the great Wayne Gretzky. And to think the Kid is just getting going.
With the 14th medal -- what else but the hockey gold this country wanted with every ounce of its being? -- Canada breaks a record for the most gold medals at a single Olympics.
Let the debate begin over which hockey gold was bigger -- Canada’s title at Salt Lake City, which ended a 50-year gold medal drought; or, this precious medal wrought of Canadian sweat and toil, earned on home ice, a record-setter.
Flip a coin, a two-head, gold coin -- ‘02 or ‘10.
“This one,” said Pronger, who was on the 2002 team, “because it’s on home soil.”
It was called in advance The Most Important Hockey Game of All Time, a game that couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, except that it did. Surely this wasn’t just a game but a script written in advance by some of the greatest Canadian Olympians, people like Nancy Green Raine, Gaetan Boucher and Barbara Ann Scott.
Roughly 17,000 were in the building, but tens of millions will say they were there, sort of like Woodstock, after the fact. In the morning, with block-long lineups to local pubs at 9 a.m., gold medal tickets were fetching $10,000 and more. Today those scalper victims will insist it was good value, and who’s to argue.
Even Zach Parise, in defeat, called the game, “a fitting finish for Canadian fans.”
After a compelling first period, which ended with a 1-0 Canadian lead on a Toews goal, the second period was one of the greatest ever played, end-to-end action that stole the breath of two hockey nations. Extraordinary stuff, a gift to hockey fans around the globe. And the game was just percolating. Corey Perry corralled a loose puck, centered by Ryan Getzlaf, to put Canada ahead by two goals early in the second period.
Now the Americans chipped away at the two-goal advantage Don Cherry always calls, “the worst lead in hockey. Ryan Kesler of the hometown Canucks got the U.S. back in the game just past the halfway point, tipping a Patrick Kane shot, the puck slithering underneath goaltender Roberto Luongo’s right arm.
For most of the third period, Canada was more or less in control of a 2-1 game, in defensive mode, though Pronger and Shea Weber both clanged shots off the post that could have spared the nation a few thousand ulcers.
Luongo’s minor bobbles and frequent rebounds inspired the Americans to keep pushing, to throw pucks to the net. In the third period, though, a lot of those long shots went into Luongo’s trapper, to die.
Now it was ‘miracle on ice time’ for the U.S. and they found their miracle with 24.4 seconds left on the clock: A shot by Kane hit Jamie Langenbrunner in front of the net, changing the tempo enough to throw off Luongo. Zach Parise couldn’t believe his good fortune as he tapped in the rebound to spark overtime.
What else to expect from a classic but extra time.
After he ended this game for the ages, Crosby said:
“I just want to go hang with the guys and enjoy it.”
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