VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Sidney Crosby sized up goalie Ryan Miller in overtime and delivered hockey gold to a nation that not only craved it, but demanded it, too.
Silver wouldn’t satisfy. Not in this sport and not in these Olympics.
Canada needed a pick-me-up to call the past 17 days a success. With a wrist shot Miller wasn’t expecting, Crosby wiped away a whole lot of hurt. The scoreboard read Canada 3, USA 2. A happy — yet relieved country — rejoiced Sunday.
The death of a luger before the Olympic cauldron was lit, disheartening glitches and a slow start in the medals race had Canada down on these games. But after finishing tops among all nations with a Winter Olympics record 14 gold medals, including the one it wanted most, the hosts held their heads high.
‘O Canada’ surely never sounded as sweet as when the Maple Leaf flag rose above the ice to honor hockey’s latest champions. And the way the Canadians pulled it off was truly dramatic. Crosby and Canada shook off a shocking tying goal by Zach Parise that gave the United States hope in the closing seconds of regulation.
“I’m very proud to be Canadian,” forward Jarome Iginla said. “You know what, I’m really proud of setting the gold-medal record for Canada.”
Remember the time: 7:40 into the extra session. That’s the moment Sid the Kid grew up on the world stage and scored the winning goal. It set off howls, chants, sobs and cheers inside a packed Canada Hockey Place that was so proud of the guys decked out in red and white.
“It’s a pretty unbelievable thing,” the 22-year-old Crosby said. “Being in Canada, that’s the opportunity of a lifetime. You dream of that a thousand times growing up. For it to come true is amazing.”
For the past few years, Crosby has basically been on loan. He plays below the border in Pittsburgh — a working-class American town that celebrated him and the Stanley Cup title he and the Penguins brought to the Steel City last year.
For the past two weeks, he was back home for Canada to reclaim as its own. There could be no more fitting ending to the Vancouver Games than to have the favorite son bring home the gold medal to a country that loves hockey more than any other sport.
At times, it seemed as if the pressure and expectations on this group of Canadian hockey players might be too much too handle. There was the early scare against Switzerland that produced a victory, a scaled-down one in a shootout, and then the crushing loss to the Americans at the end of preliminary round play.
Canada was stuck in a play-in game just to get into the quarterfinals. Could they realistically be expected to win four times in six days to capture gold?
The answer was a resounding yes.
“We talked about not getting discouraged if the tournament didn’t go our way right off the bat,” defenseman Scott Niedermayer said. “Believe in each other and get our team game the way it needs to be to win, and we did it.”
To win, Canada withstood a remarkable and determined effort from a U.S. team that wasn’t supposed to medal in Vancouver, much less roll through the tournament unbeaten before losing in the first overtime gold-medal game since NHL players joined the Olympics in 1998.
“No one knew our names. People know our names now,” said Chris Drury, one of three holdovers from the 2002 U.S. team that also lost to Canada in the gold-medal game.
Miller graciously accepted the silver medal around his neck, but the disappointment was easy to read on his face.
“He was the main reason we were in the gold medal game and why we got it to overtime,” forward Ryan Callahan said.
Drury, Miller’s former teammate with the Buffalo Sabres, hugged the devastated goalie near the U.S. bench as the celebration roared all around them.
“He’s pretty down, but there’s no chance we’re here without the way he played the whole tournament,” Drury said. “It’s heartbreaking to lose in OT of a gold-medal game, but he should be proud of everything he did the last two weeks.”
Miller was done in on Sunday by a couple of costly mistakes by his typically sure-handed defensemen. The gaffes led to shots that gave the rock-solid goalie little chance to stop.
Even with an early 0-2 deficit — the first for the Americans’ in this stunning Olympic run — Miller proved to be as brilliant as he had been throughout the tournament.
A two-goal hole was already deep for the Americans. Three would have been almost too monumental to overcome.
Miller knew it and never let it get that far. He watched from the bench after being pulled for an extra attacker and saw Parise net the goal that made it 2-2 with 24.4 seconds remaining that forced a most improbable overtime. Ryan Kesler began the comeback when he cut the deficit to 2-1 with 7:16 left in the second.
Whatever momentum was gained by Parise’s exhilarating goal was mostly gone by the time the teams returned after a lengthy break before overtime.
“Once we got past about 10 minutes into the intermission we realized, ‘You know what? We’ve still got a chance here,'” Crosby said. “We just said, ‘Let’s go after it.’
“I didn’t want to have any regrets.”
Canada was in control throughout extra time, keeping the puck in the U.S. zone and the pressure squarely on the young Americans. Their speed, the Americans’ greatest strength, seemed to slow as the game wore on under the constant hitting from the much-bigger Canadians.
Crosby scored from the bottom of the left circle on a shot Miller didn’t think would come.
Now, Crosby joins Lemieux — whose goal beat the Soviet Union in the 1987 World Cup — and Paul Henderson, who beat the Soviets with a goal in the 1972 Summit Series, among the instant national heroes of Canadian hockey. At age 22, Crosby has won the Stanley Cup and the Olympics in less than a year’s time.
“He’s got a little destiny to him — his entire career, throughout minor hockey, junior hockey, NHL,” Canada executive director Steve Yzerman said about Crosby. “So it’s just another monumental moment in his career. And he’s what, 22 still? He’s a special, special guy. Kind of like Gretzky.”
Minutes after the game ended, delirious fans chanted, “Crosby! Crosby! Crosby!” International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge paused before giving the final medal to Crosby as the crowd got even louder. Then he gestured with his right hand, calling for more cheers for Crosby.
“It’s just fitting, I think, that Sid would get it,” goalie Roberto Luongo said. “I couldn’t think of anyone better.”