VANCOUVER — Like the unforgettable goals scored by Paul Henderson in 1972 and Mario Lemieux in 1987, Sidney Crosby’s winner in Sunday’s Olympic final against the United States is headed straight into Canadian hockey lore.
“Iggy!” No. 87 cried out to Jarome Iginla before taking a pass from his winger, walking out in front, and slipping the puck through Ryan Miller’s legs at 7:40 of overtime, sealing a 3-2 victory. Up went his arms, out went his mouthguard and so began the celebration of a play destined to be copied in driveways from coast to coast.
“You’re going to see a lot of kids growing up now wishing they were Crosby scoring in overtime and winning a gold medal,” said veteran Canadian defenceman Chris Pronger. “And that’s pretty special.”
Special would be an understatement.
Winning gold at the Vancouver Olympics was nearly a national obsession for the country’s hockey fans in the months leading up to the Games, and much of the burden and expectations fell on the 22-year-old Crosby’s shoulders.
Already a Stanley Cup champion, he was now the best player on what many observers considered the gold-medal co-favourite with Russia, and whenever it comes to hockey in Canada, nothing short of victory is good enough.
Little wonder then that there was consternation about his lack of dominance in the 7-3 quarter-final win over Russia and a 3-2 win over Slovakia in the semis.
Where was he when the team needed him most, some wondered?
Right where he needed to be as it turns out.
“Every kid dreams of that opportunity,” said Crosby.
“It could have been anybody else, it could have been any other guy in that room. Obviously, being in Canada that’s an opportunity of a lifetime to play in the Olympics here and try to win a gold medal. You dream of that moment a thousand times growing up.”
For some, that dream was inspired by watching Henderson whack home a loose puck in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series to secure a Canadian victory. For those a bit younger, it’s Lemieux taking a drop pass from Wayne Gretzky and snapping a wrist shot into the top corner to defeat the Soviets in the ’87 Canada Cup.
Crosby’s goal capped perhaps the most documented and analyzed hockey tournament ever, and his lack of total dominance before the big moment landed him in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. He finished with four goals and three assists in seven games, and with the appreciation of his entire team.
“I think he had a great tournament,” said Steve Yzerman, Team Canada’s executive director. “I just keep going back that he’s such a young person and to have the weight of the country on his shoulders, it’s not necessarily good enough to win, he’s got to lead the team. That’s a lot to put on a young player. I thought he conducted himself very well under immense pressure.
“It’s not good enough to win, everybody expects him to get a hat trick every night.”
Crosby nearly settled matters versus the U.S. earlier, when he broke in alone on Ryan Miller with three minutes left in the third period and Canada nursing a 2-1 lead. His stick was lifted at the last moment, the insurance goal never came, and the U.S. tied things up with 24.4 seconds remaining to force overtime.
He never got discouraged, and with a second chance he made it happen.
“Any guy would have that going through their mind when they tie it up, you realize you missed that breakaway. It’s not a good feeling at all,” said Crosby. “Obviously, they spoiled things for awhile. Going into overtime, we just wanted to go after it — we didn’t want to have any regrets.”
With a gold medal now around his neck, there’s no chance of that.