This really had the feel of something created a few hundred miles to the south.
Think about it. Put the two best teams in the tournament together -- natural rivals to boot – let ‘em go toe-to-toe for 60 minutes without coming to a decision, and then have the poster boy for all that is good about hockey winning the gold medal for his country with a brilliant overtime goal.
No wonder Vancouver is nicknamed Hollywood North.
The film industry likes to use this locale and some day it might want to make use of the dreamlike script written by Sidney Crosby who fulfilled his hero’s role and saved Canada from a collective national breakdown after Team USA forced overtime with 25 seconds remaining the third period. In what was a game for the ages, and as good a sales pitch as possible for the NHL, Crosby one-timed a shot past goalie Ryan Miller to give the host county a dramatic 3-2 overtime win and the right to call itself the best in the world again for at least the next four years.
Just don’t expect those voices to be as cocky as they once were after the upstart Team USA stretched the heavy pre-tournament favorites to the limit and made a definitive statement about how good the level of talent being developed in this country has become.
Team USA arrived at this tournament transitioning to a new generation of players, and with the youngest roster in Vancouver quickly meshed into a dangerous unit that often seemed on the verge of destiny. The Americans came into these Olympics as a self-described underdog, yet never seemed to play the role by winning five games in a row including a stunning preliminary round upset against Canada.
That was the one game that perhaps changed the dynamics of the tournament. It alerted the other teams to just how dangerous the
Americans had become, especially with Miller being an unshakable force in their goal, and it sent a strong message to the Canadians that the gold medal was not going to be an entitlement that many up north assumed it would be.
“It woke them up for sure,” said veteran American defenseman Brian Rafalski, who was a force throughout the tournament for his team.
“You could see the games they played after us that there was a whole different purpose, almost like they were a whole different team.”
One that went on to win four games in six nights to end up atop the medal podium. The Canadians rebounded easily against an overmatched German team then had to go through tough Russian and Slovakian teams to get to this title game, but they had to take the intensity level up another notch to get past Team USA that competed furiously to the end in the gold medal contest.
“It was a lot harder than we thought it would be,” Crosby told NBC after the game. “It took a lot of work.”
And it required surviving some shaky goaltending by Roberto Luongo. Luongo took over the job after Martin Brodeur struggled in the preliminary game against Team USA and was solid for the most part, but when the Americans ratched up the pressure, he had trouble handling the puck on several occasions and twice that led to goals. That erased the 2-0 lead Canada had given him and it set up the nail-biting finish that Crosby, generally inconspicuous for the last two games, made happen with his work in the American zone.
With the teams playing four-on-four for the overtime session, Crosby poked the puck loose from an American defender, quickly releasing teammate Jarome Iginla's return pass before Miller could cut down the angle.
“My move there was going to be aggressive, he just picked up his head earlier than I thought,” Miller said. “We ended up one shot short.”
But a lot farther than anyone might have predicted before the tournament.
And with much to look forward to internationally in years to come.