Canada gets a final reason to celebrate
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – A nation screamed Sunday. It screamed itself hoarse and screamed itself lightheaded and screamed itself giddy. It screamed because its national team won the greatest prize in its national game when a kid who is the quintessence of the nation did what he was born to do.
Canada won Sunday. Not just the gold medal in men’s hockey on an overtime goal by Sidney Crosby – the Goal of the New Century – to devastate the United States in a 3-2 victory. Canada won the Winter Olympics, and no longer can this version be called the Vancouver Games. Now, and forever, they should be the Canada Games.
Had Crosby not slipped a pass from Jarome Iginla through the pads of Ryan Miller, the nonpareil American goalie, and had the Americans beaten the permeable Roberto Luongo once more, the past three weeks would’ve been deemed a failure across Canada, for hockey is really all that matters. This isn’t to demean any of the record 14 gold medals won by Canada. Just know the populace would trade 13 if it meant one in hockey.
Children across Canada skate before they can walk, learn hockey prior to arithmetic, worship at the altars of the sport’s deities. The newest one is a 22-year-old from Nova Scotia, anointed long ago by Wayne Gretzky, patron saint himself. Crosby is soft-spoken and unassuming and unapologetically Canadian, and he now goes down with Paul Henderson, hero of the 1972 Summit Series with the USSR with his Goal of the Century, as author of the nation’s greatest stick-and-puck tales.
“It could’ve been anybody else,” Crosby said. “It could’ve been any other guy in that room.”
Actually, no. This wasn’t predestined, of course, but it was so predictable, what with every other piece of the storybook already written. The Canadians were supposed to win on their soil. The Americans beat them in among the best games ever during round-robin play. Here the two best teams were playing in sudden death, Canada’s depth against America’s stone wall in goal, America’s bullying against Canada’s skill, personified no better than Sid the Kid.
Crosby entered the game in a slump. He bungled a breakaway with three minutes left that would have given Canada a two-goal lead. The crowd’s groan, though audible, soon turned back to cheers. Fans paid thousands of dollars for tickets. Those without them slumped outside the arena, resigned to watching in bars with lines 100 people deep. This wasn’t a game. It was an event, a calling, a reckoning, Crosby the ultimate uniter with one wrist flick.
“I didn’t see it go in the net,” he said. “I just heard everyone scream.”
Helmets went flying like graduation caps. Sticks, too. The mob scene along the boards lasted forever. Crosby could’ve broken three ribs and emerged with an indelible grin.
“You’re just happy he’s on your team, aren’t you?” Canadian center Joe Thornton said. “You’re happy he’s born in Canada, thank God.”
Canadians were. The American team was despondent. Miller knelt in his goal for a minute after the shot slipped by him. His teammates tried to console him with pats on the back. He would have none of them. As he received his silver medal to a standing ovation from the appreciative Canadians, Miller couldn’t bear to acknowledge them.
“You win a gold and you win a bronze,” U.S. defenseman Jack Johnson said. “You lose a silver.
“You let the biggest award in sports slip through your fingers at the last second. We were one shot shy of winning it.”
The Americans spent their one shot earlier. They cut a 2-0 deficit in half on a soft goal past Luongo and scrambled as the clock ticked below a minute. Airhorns blew. A sea of red, high on ice, stood and awaited the orgiastic fallout. “Let’s go, Canada,” they cheered in unison. Miller came off the ice, and it looked hopeless.
Then Zach Parise knocked a rebound past Luongo with 24.4 seconds left in regulation, and the arena turned cadaverous.
“We all thought we were going to win the game,” U.S. center Paul Stastny said.
In the dressing room, the Canadians refused to mope. This was their sport, these their Games, and damn if a young group was going to come in here and steal their gold like they did at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002.
With 12:20 remaining in overtime, Crosby took care of any such concerns. As the Americans slumped toward their bench, someone draped a Canadian flag over Crosby’s shoulder. He didn’t know what to do with it. He skated the first victory lap with the Stanley Cup in June. This victory needed no adornment. Fans yelled, whistled, banged on the glass surrounding the rink. The noise wouldn’t stop. It still hasn’t.
Crosby stood at the back of Canada’s line during the teams’ handshakes. Miller was the caboose in the Americans’. They met around mid-ice, the kid who scored the biggest goal in ages and the kid who gave it up, and grasped hands. Miller stared past Crosby.
Everyone else fixated on him. The chants were immediate: “Cros-by, Cros-by, Cros-by.” As the heir to hockey royalty, Crosby swallows criticism that he’s too soft, too flashy, too hyped, and treats it like protein, there to make him stronger. Critics will say it was right place, right time, and it was. That doesn’t diminish the achievement any.
Crosby won the game for Canada, and after they were done paying homage, the fans started a new one: “Ca-na-da, Ca-na-da, Ca-na-da.” The medal ceremony took place on the ice. People paid to see this moment, one man in the arena holding up a sign that read: Someone offered me $50,000 for this seat, but I’m Canadian, eh?
All the gold medal winners acted the same. They hung their heads for the wreathing, felt the weight of the medal and started to examine it. They held them, gazed at them, fondled them. This was their birthright. They fulfilled it.
“I’ve got a gold medal around my neck,” Luongo said, “and nobody can take that away from me.”
After the final medal was placed on Crosby, “O Canada” played over the speakers, and a 20,000-person singalong ensued. On the other side of the arena from the national heroes, the ones who made these the Canada Games, three flags rose. The United States’ was on the left and Finland’s on the right.
And in the middle, for the world to see, flew Canada’s, above the other two, above all of them, the perfect ending to the Winter Olympics that it won.