VANCOUVER — It turns out, you can’t create a legacy in a day. But you can make history.
Roberto Luongo was clenching it Sunday, the gold medal in Olympic men’s hockey draped over his heart. It symbolized fulfilment and relief — and erased a crushing goal surrendered to Zach Parise 25 seconds left in regulation, tying a game Canada spent the whole third period trying not to lose.
Sidney Crosby penned the story book ending, scoring the winning goal in overtime as Canada beat the U.S. on the final day of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.
“The feeling that goes through your body when Sid scored like that, it’s unreal,” Luongo said.
Is it enough, however, to cut through the cloud of doubt that has followed Luongo since May?
“You guys can be the judge of that,” he said. “But I got a gold medal around my neck and nobody can take that away from me.”
And it was earned.
The legacy stuff might have to wait, but Luongo nonetheless arrived as a big-game goalie in a game that will be remembered for generations. He made 32 saves with 33 million people on his back.
It was overwhelming. Fighting back tears, he couldn’t help but think of what it meant to him to make history.
“Right now, there is so many thoughts going through my head,” he said. “Thinking about so many people that helped me out along the way and it’s just a great feeling.
“I worked hard my whole life for something like this and it’s nice to get rewarded.”
There wasn’t much room for error Sunday.
With tournament MVP Ryan Miller tending goal for the U.S., Luongo had to be, at least, his equal.
And he was.
His stop on a Ryan Malone backhander from the slot allowed Canada’s Jonathan Toews to score the pivotal first goal. On his final save of the game, Luongo threw an elbow out to block a shot from a spinning Joe Pavelski in overtime, moments before Crosby clinched it.
Was there any doubt? Sure there was, and Luongo heard about it all week and all game. Team USA was in his ear — including U.S. centre Ryan Kesler, Luongo’s Vancouver Canucks teammate, who scored the Americans’ first goal and then told anyone who’d listen he thought Luongo was “fighting the puck” all game.
“I’m wearing gold,” Luongo said after the game. “I really don’t care what they think. Are you kidding me?”
Luongo made sure to salute his fans during the medal ceremony. It was those fans, he said, who helped him get through the tough times this week.
For Team Canada, replacing Martin Brodeur in goal with Luongo wasn’t the easiest decision, but it was the right one.
It may not have felt that way when Parise scored to tie the game 2-2. Maybe Luongo didn’t make the huge save at that moment, but it wasn’t all on him. Patrick Kane took the shot. It got caught up in Jamie Langenbrunner’s skate and the rebound went right to Parise, who put it in from the goalmouth untouched by a defenceman.
“It was disappointing. I thought we were so close to getting it there,” Luongo said.
But with his dream — and that of Team Canada — seemingly slipping away, Luongo refocused himself.
“I had to pay them a little bit back,” Luongo said of his on-ice salute. “They’ve been supporting me these two weeks. Obviously, they’ve been tremendously loud every time I touched the puck.”
Being home meant something, he said. It gave him comfort. If there was any doubt about Luongo’s place in Vancouver, it’s gone now. This is home. This is his city, and he is this city’s star.
“This medal is not only for myself, but it’s for Canada and the people of Vancouver and the fans who have supported me since the first day I got here,” Luongo said.
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