Youth was served for Team Canada
Sid the Kid rode to the rescue.
With a nation on the edge of their seats, gnawing on their fingernails and praying for divine intervention that the Vancouver Olympics would conclude with a gold medal in men’s hockey. One of Canada’s top dream achievers in Sidney Crosby made sure the country’s fantasy came to life with a dramatic overtime goal to give Canada a 3-2 win against the United States and the coveted gold that ignited a nationwide party.
Crosby took a return pass from linemate Jarome Iginla and then fired a quick shot through the pads of stingy U.S. goalie Ryan Miller, seven minutes and 40 seconds into the extra period.
The native of Cole Harbour, N.S. and star of those all-Canadian Tim Hortons timbits commercials proceeded to skate into the corner. He tossed his stick, flung his gloves in jubilation and then was hugged simultaneously by Canadian defencemen Drew Doughty and Scott Niedermayer.
It was a fitting celebratory scene because Doughty, 20, was Team Canada’s youngest player in the Olympic tournament and 36-year-old Niedermayer was the oldest skater. So if the Canadian hockey torch was not passed to Crosby when he won the Stanley Cup last June, it was officially passed on the ice surface at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver.
"It doesn’t even feel real," Crosby said. "It feels like a dream."
Nobody was surprised to see Crosby score the latest big goal in Canadian hockey history, even though he wasn’t Canada’s best player in the tournament or in the gold-medal final.
Rick Nash was easily Canada’s top performer against the U.S. on Sunday. Jonathan Toews, named the tournament’s top forward and to the all-star team, was the best for Canada throughout the tournament.
Doughty and defencemen Shea Weber weren’t too far behind.
"It’s something that maybe comes only once in a lifetime," Toews said.
"We were saying after the third period that somebody would come through for us and it was no coincidence that he did it. He’s a tremendous leader and has accomplished so much in his young career."
There were some who theorized immediately afterwards that this was one of the greatest hockey games every played. That remains up for debate. One thing for sure, it gave Canada 14 gold medals at the Vancouver Games, an Olympic record for a country.
"That will be a good replay or highlight to play for a long time to come," Niedermayer said. "Sid scored it. Obviously, he is a great player, who competed hard for us the whole tournament. I’m sure that goal is going to be replayed and we’re going to see it a long time.
"This is an experience that I’m going to remember forever. Certainly to give them something back like that is rewarding for us. They obviously love hockey."
It was Niedermayer’s second Olympic gold men’s hockey and arrived eight years after Canada celebrated its last men’s hockey gold at Salt Lake City. He also has won four Stanley Cups, a world championship, a world junior and a Memorial Cup.
Canada’s Mike Babcock became the first coach in hockey history to win an Olympic gold, world championship and Stanley Cup. He also has a world junior title and Canadian University crown to his credit.
"Our guys found a way to win," he said. "It’s a fine line between winning and losing."
This was the first win by a host nation since the United States’ Miracle on Ice in 1980 and a coming out party for the likes of Toews, Weber, Doughty and Duncan Keith.
"There are a lot of young guys all over the place, not just on our team but on the U.S. team, too," Niedermayer said. "Our guys did play very well. They stepped up in pressure situations. You get into these games that are single elimination there is not a lot of room for error and they were very solid."
Patrick Kane was the one of the top U.S. players in the final. After Canada built up a 2-0 with a Toews rebound goal in the first period and Corey Perry marker in the second, Kane set up Ryan Kesler a few shifts after Perry scored and Zach Parise for tying goal with 24.4 tics left on the clock.
On the tying goal, Canadian goalie Roberto Luongo could have snared a shot from U.S. centre Joe Pavelski with 40 seconds left. But he fumbled the shot and play continued. Then Kane directed the puck to the net, it bounded off Jamie Langenbrunner’s skate to Luongo and the round was there for Parise.
"It was real quiet," Niedermayer said, describing the mood in the dressing room after regulation time. "We were disappointed obviously. I thought for the most part we played a real good third period and kept them away from getting opportunities. We hit a couple posts. But they are a talented team.
"You have to keep your composure. You can’t let it unravel. You can’t go out and think ‘what if’ or ‘what about that.’ That’s what we did."
This was the first loss of the tournament for the silver medallists.
"To come up short definitely hurts," Kesler said. "It’s going to be hard. It’s going to take at least two weeks to get over this.
"We wanted to throw the puck at the net because it looked like [Luongo] was fighting it."
Kesler and U.S. forward Ryan Malone were involved in some pregame hijinks. Malone slid some pucks softly toward Crosby as he tied his skate lace in the warm-up. But Crosby ignored his former Pittsburgh Penguins teammate.
Kesler skated as close to the centre line that divided the two teams with his stick out. He knocked a few Canadians with his stick, but couldn’t draw a reaction from his opponent. Of course, immediately after Crosby scored, thousands of people invaded the streets of downtown Vancouver and in other cities across Canada.
"It is just as much a relief as it is excitement," Canadian defenceman Duncan Keith said. "It may have been a battle for two weeks, but a lot more hard work went into it.
"I remember when they won in Salt Lake, I was one of those guys driving around, honking my horn. Now to be part of the team is something special"
Gordie Howe, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and singer Michael Buble were just many of VIPs among the crowd of 17,748. There also were a number of gold-medal winning Canadian athletes like skeleton’s Jon Montgomery and women’s hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser.
"Along with Canadians from coast to coast to coast, I am thrilled and extremely proud of the outstanding performance by our men’s hockey team and the gold medal win at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games," the Prime Minister said in a statement. "The passion and love for the game shown by both Team Canada and the fans has demonstrated once again that hockey truly is Canada’s game."