In a victory for hockey, hosts seize gold in OT
VANCOUVER, British Columbia - One large gold medal for Canada. One giant leap for hockey.
In an afternoon perhaps to be remembered as the game’s shiniest moment of the new age - definition: skating speed that defies description, sticks as light as feathers, crunching hits that hurt just to watch - Canada struck Olympic gold yesterday when Sidney Crosby swept home a Jarome Iginla relay to defeat Team USA, 3-2, with 7:40 gone in overtime.
Cutting to the net from the left wing boards, yelling for a pass as if he were carving up backyard ice in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, Crosby smacked a 10-foot shot through goalie Ryan Miller’s pads to clinch Canada’s eighth Olympic hockey gold medal. Save for a smattering of heartbroken Yanks, the sellout crowd of some 18,000 in Canada Hockey Place erupted in a thunderous roar as Crosby tossed away stick and gloves, skated into a corner, and was mobbed by teammates in a crowning moment of national pride, passion, and frenzy.
“You know,’’ said towering Canadian defenseman Chris Pronger, “you’re going to see a lot of kids grow up now, wishing they were Crosby winning the gold medal.’’
Some of those kids even will be Americans, at least those able to drop their red-white-and-blue disappointment and savor the splendor and excitement of the moment, as well as the overall dazzling display of nonstop skating, passing, shooting, and hitting that played out over 2 1/2 hours.
The 22-year-old Crosby is already an icon in his homeland, but the goal he scored, with a country waiting to party across five time zones and into the next century, will be frozen in time as both his and Canada’s signature Olympic moment. Canada’s mission in these Games was to “Own the Podium.’’ But to Canadians, podiums are but tiny trinkets on a planet that has a huge chunk of vulcanized rubber at its core.
“You win for your country,’’ said Pronger. “And to do this, especially on home ice . . . to see the flag go up, hear the anthem . . . it’s pretty special.’’
For the Yanks, part of a large pack of underdogs at the start of the two-week tournament, it was their only loss (5-1). They beat Canada, 5-3, in a qualifier Feb. 21 and had not trailed in any of their games prior to Jonathan Toews knocking in the 1-0 lead yesterday with 12:50 gone in the first. The Americans were young, their roster dotted with few household names, but they were outskated by no one and they played a fierce, sometimes ferocious game of trading chances that was every bit the equal of the made-in-Canada version that eventually sent them out of here with only silver medals.
“We proved it’s not just Canada’s game,’’ said US center Ryan Kesler, whose goal, a tip of a Patrick Kane wrister, cut the Canadian lead to 2-1 at 12:44 of the second period. “We beat them once . . . and we took them to OT.’’
“I’m proud of what we did,’’ added American blue liner Jack Johnson, “but unfortunately, you lose silver. You win gold. You win bronze. But you lose silver.’’
The same was true of the US women’s team that fell to Canada, 2-0, in the gold-medal game here Thursday. Both US squads were good, exceptional in the men’s case, but packed up their equipment bags in the end with runner-up trophies and hauntingly empty bellies.
Kesler’s goal came 5 1/2 minutes after a Corey Perry strike made it 2-0, positioning the Canadians possibly to turn the clincher into a blowout. The Canadians followed Perry’s goal, which came off a nice feed from Ryan Getzlaf, by rubbing out a shorthanded situation that had the Yanks struggling even to keep the puck in the offensive end while on the advantage. But Kesler cut short the Canadian momentum when he charged the net against his Canucks teammate, Roberto Luongo, and ticked home the Kane wrister from the right wing circle.
“That second half of the second period and all of the third period, we dominated,’’ figured Kesler, who might not have been giving the Canadians enough credit there, though they were guilty of some passive play late in the third. “To come up short definitely hurts . . . we deserved better.’’
To force OT, the Yanks needed Miller to leave his net for an extra attacker, and they also needed an alert Zach Parise to pop home a rebound of yet another Kane shot with only 24.4 seconds remaining in regulation. Kane fired from the right circle and the behemoth Luongo stopped it as it deflected onto his pads off the foot of US captain Jamie Langenbrunner. Cutting right-left across the top of the crease, the alert and gritty Parise mashed it over the goal line. Tied, 2-2, and Canada Hockey Place had its celebration placed in suspended animation.
“You don’t want to say we sat back,’’ noted Crosby, “but late in the game you could see our guys were watching the clock. We were just trying to hang on.’’
In overtime, with play scaled back to 4 on 4 for the 20-minute session, the Yanks battled hard but were outshot, 7-4.
For the closer, Crosby raced in from the left wall after dishing over to the nearby Iginla, and began screaming for the puck as soon as he gained a step on defenseman Brian Rafalski. Iginla heard him, loud and clear.
“I could tell by the pitch of his voice, and there are different pitches of yelling,’’ said a smiling Iginla. “He was screaming. He knew he had a step there. It was awesome to see him get it.’’
Miller came out slightly to cut down the angle and had to be taken off guard by the quickness of Crosby’s shot. Rather than gather in the feed from Iginla, Crosby opted for a quick sweep, essentially only directing and accelerating Iginla’s feed. It zipped through Miller’s five-hole, leaving the talented Sabres goalie stunned and dismayed.
“I was aggressive the whole tournament,’’ said the crestfallen Miller. “I wasn’t going to change my game just because it was overtime.’’
Asked his emotion when it was over, Miller added, “I knew we lost. I just feel like [expletive].’’
Now it’s back to NHL action for the favorite sons of Team Canada and Team USA. In Boston, Tim Thomas will arrive home with the silver, Patrice Bergeron the gold. All across the 30-team league, the feuding North Americans will be reunited, some on the same team, some on the opposite side of the ice on certain nights. No telling if NHLers will play again at Olympus. This was the fourth time the league has shut down for the tournament and it is a growing sentiment among team owners that it is not good for business. The 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, will go on with or without them.
Meanwhile, Canada will go on with gold, the Americans with an overwhelming feeling of opportunity lost.
“We’ll play them any time, anywhere,’’ said Johnson, asked what he felt the outcome could be if the Yanks and Canadians played a seven-game series, Stanley Cup style. “Unfortunately, this is winner-take-all. Hey, we split two games with them and they won the only one that really matters.’’