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Originally published February 28, 2010 at 5:28 PM | Page modified February 28, 2010 at 11:01 PM

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Steve Kelley

Team Canada's hockey gold defines a nation and its Olympics

Sidney Crosby scored the overtime goal heard 'round the provinces, providing the perfect ending for the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. It also may have been the most important moment in the history of Canadian sports.

Seattle Times staff columnist

VANCOUVER, B.C. — The Canadians made a promise to their country that, this time, they would come after Ryan Miller. They would throw pucks and bodies at him and swarm like hornets around the net.

They wouldn't let what happened in the preliminary-round loss happen again. They would make Miller vulnerable. They would wear him down, knock him out.

And in overtime of this remarkable hockey game, they came at Miller with gold-medal purpose.

Jarome Iginla poked at him in front of the net. Patrick Marleau had an opportunity. Rick Nash blistered a shot off Miller's arm.

And then, in the eighth minute of overtime, Sidney Crosby, the face of Canadian hockey, got free from Brian Rafalski along the boards, skated to the net, took a pass from Iginla and scored the goal heard 'round the provinces.

"It feels like a dream," said Crosby, who hadn't scored a point in more than 180 minutes.

It is one of those moments in history that every Canadian will remember. He or she will know exactly where they were and how they felt the day Crosby scored the gold-medal goal.

"None better to score it than him," forward Eric Staal said of Crosby. "He seems to be in the spotlight in this sport and in newsprint and everywhere across the world. He's one of those players who's a great player and when he gets on this stage, he steps up.

"With him, it's always just a matter of time, and today his time was in overtime. It was pretty awesome for him and for this team and for everyone in this country."

The Winter Olympics couldn't have asked for a better ending.

Everything that had happened — from Shaun White to Lindsey Vonn, from Kim Yu-na to Evan Lysacek and Joannie Rochette, from the Canadian curlers to the U.S. Nordic team — came down to one overtime.

It was as if the Olympics didn't want to end.

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This game was as good as these Games. Crosby's goal was the perfect ending. It just took a little longer than Canada expected.

The fuse already had been lit about 25 minutes earlier. The loudest, most raucous party Canada has ever thrown was 24.4 seconds from beginning.

But Canada goalie Roberto Luongo gave up a rebound. With the entire country ready to explode, when all it needed was one final smothering save to start the celebration. Luongo allowed a rare rebound that Zach Parise poked past him for the tying goal.

A game that was too good to end would continue.

"All we said in the locker room (after regulation) was that this just means it's going to feel even better when we win it in overtime," said Canada's Staal.

This may have been the most important moment in the history of Canadian sports, and when it was over, after every player was draped with their goal medal, it seemed like nobody wanted to leave. Ever.

People would have stayed here all night, held a Canada Hockey Place sleepover. They would have celebrated until the next Canucks home game.

"This country loves hockey and loves everything about hockey players," said Staal, who was stoned by Miller on a late-game breakaway. "And for us to be able to come into this environment and deliver, and for me to be part of it, is definitely an honor."

How long had Canadian sports fans waited for this moment on their soil? Since Vancouver was awarded the Games in 2003? Or, more likely, forever?

If the 2010 Winter Olympics needed this final Canadian gold to define their success, then the Vancouver Games, despite their bad beginnings, were an unquestioned triumph.

Canada recovered from a tragic start. It didn't "Own the Podium," as was promised, but it owned the top rung of the podium, finishing with a Games-high 14 gold medals.

"It's great just to know we were part of that," defenseman Chris Pronger said.

After the medal ceremony, after one more Canadian crowd sang one final chilling "O Canada," Corey Perry grabbed an oversized Canadian flag, skated around the rink, handed it off to Drew Doughty, who handed it to team captain Scott Niedermayer.

All of them held the flag aloft and skated a victory semi-lap as if the flag were the Stanley Cup.

It wasn't. It was better.

"To wrap up the entire Olympics with a gold medal, that's pretty special," Iginla said. "But what I'm really proud of is just being a Canadian and being part of all the gold medals, not just the hockey gold medal. We'd never won gold here before in Canada and then for the country to do what we did, it's an amazing feeling."

For Canada, this is the feeling of a lifetime.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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