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BILL PLASCHKE

For Canada, maple relief

The nation's hockey esteem is intact after a 3-2 overtime win over the United States in the gold-medal game. 'A game for the ages,' said Canadian Jonathan Toews.

March 01, 2010|Bill Plaschke

From Vancouver, Canada — O Canada, did it ever fill the arena, everyone singing, players with their thick arms draped around one another, fans weeping into their giant red jerseys, surely one of the loudest anthems ever.

You know what? Let Canada sing. It earned it. It needed it. The joy, the relief, the redemption, and, of course, the farewell.

On the final day of Canada's official duties as Olympic hosts, its national sport survived America's national grit Sunday, winning the gold-medal hockey game over the United States in overtime, 3-2, in front of a bouncing sea of braying red.

The winners celebrated with the game's best ice dancing, nearly two dozen men locked in a jumping, board-rattling embrace.

"A game for the ages," said Canadian Jonathan Toews.

The losers fell to their knees, to the cold reality of silver by a sliver.

"It stinks; I mean, it really stinks," said American Patrick Kane.

It was a shame for the Americans that it ended this way, losing a game they had tied in the final 24 seconds of regulation, losing despite having the speed and the legs and momentum.

But maybe it ended the way it was supposed to end.

Sidney Crosby, Canada's national hockey hero, sprinting in front of the net and poking the shot past goalie Ryan Miller barely seven minutes into the overtime, throwing out his mouthpiece, throwing down his gloves, hurling himself into the glass, all of Canada at once sighing and screaming.

"I literally did not see the shot go in, I just heard the roar of the crowd," Crosby said.

It is a roar that Canadians will cherish forever, a loud return of hockey esteem that had been dented by last week's loss to the U.S., a cheery departure of an Olympics that they had embraced with fervor.

"You dream of this moment 1,000 times growing up," Crosby said. "Then to have it come true is pretty amazing."

The victory gave Canada its 14th gold medal here, a record for any country in the Winter Olympics. The silver gave the U.S. 37 overall medals, also a Winter Games record.

Given that, could it be the outcome worked for both sides? Is such a thing even possible in sports anymore? If so, then it happened here Sunday, Canada hockey saving face with U.S. hockey gaining heart.

"We've proved that it's not just Canada's game," said American Ryan Kesler. "We played good enough to win it all."

It indeed appeared that the U.S. was going to steal it all when it took advantage of a tentative Canada third period to sneak in a goal by Zach Parise, completing the only period in which the U.S. outshot its favored opponents.

"We had all the momentum," said Kane, who helped set up that tying goal. "Everything was going for us, everyone was really pumped, sometimes you think you have all it, and then . . ."

Then somebody decides to protect his heritage.

It turns out that, as witnesses suspected, Canada spent most of that third period, well, choking.

''You're ahead, 2-1, you want to win so bad, you're just staring at the clock; that was us," Crosby said. "I think we were all just sitting back hoping for that clock to tick off."

The tying goal suddenly meant the clock was now ticking on the Canadian legacy. In the dressing room before the overtime period, their coach, Mike Babcock, reminded them of the stakes.

"He told us, 'This is a chance of a lifetime,' " said Canadian Duncan Keith. "He said, 'One period, one shot, who's going to be the hero?' "

They understood, and it was a different Canadian team that took the ice in the overtime. Even though they outshot the Americans only 7-4 in the period, it seems as though they had the puck the entire 7:40 before Crosby's goal.

"We put on the pressure," said Brenden Morrow. "We had to."

It was truly a goal of desperation, set up first by Jarome Iginla's beating Ryan Suter for the puck after a battle along the boards.

"He just outmuscled him," Crosby said.

At the same time, Crosby was sprinting away from Brian Rafalski, the hero in the earlier U.S. victory over Canada, the beaten one here.

"I don't remember what happened," Rafalski said. "He just got away."

From there, it was a matter of Crosby informing Iginla that he was open, no small task considering Iginla's back was to the goal.

"He screamed at me," Iginla said. "I mean, there are times that he yells, but this time he really screamed."

Request heard. Puck passed. Goal heard 'round the true north.

"You can't really put it into words," said Canadian Brent Seabrook.

O, Canada tried. By the end of the stirring national anthem Sunday, it was jubilantly clear that while Olympic guests were welcome to take all sorts of local souvenirs back to their home countries, hockey was staying right here.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

latimes.com /sports

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