Sunday, February 28, 2010

Perfect ending to the Winter Olympics

Posted By on Sun, Feb 28, 2010 at 4:49 PM

No matter what they said, no matter what you saw, it can't fully describe what took place Sunday afternoon inside Canada Hockey Place.

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Without doubt, millions of Canadians will insist decades from now that they were inside the arena on the day Canada superstar Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal at 7:40 of overtime to give his country the men's hockey gold medal at the end of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

That's OK. Canada deserves to feel proud. But so does Team USA.

Even if you were watching, you had to be here to appreciate just how incredibly raucous the crowd of nearly 20,000 truly was. Let's just say that I've been covering sports events for more than 40 years, and I can't remember an atmosphere better than this was.

Never. Anywhere. It was that extraordinary.

At so many other Olympic events, including the women's hockey final, there were enough Americans in the stands to make a lot of noise. But on this day, Canadians filled at least 90 percent of the seats, and it was as knowledgeable of a hockey crowd as you will ever see. The only concession to the "visitors" from Team USA would be the arena's huge foghorn marking every goal, not just Canada's.

But then, after Canada took a 2-0 lead in the second period, you had to wonder if this game, after so much anticipation and buildup, would turn into a blowout instead.

It didn't, because Team USA hadn't been outclassed in falling behind. And despite never trailing before in this Olympic tournament, the Americans handled this adversity with remarkable composure in the back half of the game. No goonery or luck, just skills and perseverance.

They finally won their first battle, beating Canada goalie Roberto Luongo, and it was 2-1 after two periods. Then, inside the final half-minute of regulation, U.S. forward Zach Parise outdueled the Canadians and Luongo to make it 2-2.

Overtime. Sudden death for the gold. Canada was in shock, and Americans started thinking about another miracle, just like 1980 and 1960. The frenzy grew louder and louder as the intermission ended, with the spectators exhorted by the familiar music of "The Final Countdown."

It was as if they didn't want this game to ever end. So the teams came back and traded their best shots and checks, shift after shift — until Crosby's winning goal.

The eruption of absolute, total ecstasy was barely fathomable. But in the end, there was no gloating, on or off the ice. The players lined up for the traditional handshake line, and many of the opponents hugged each other in obvious respect. They knew they had just played in the best game of their lives.

Then came the medal ceremony, and the loudest and lustiest "O Canada" you will ever hear.

Meanwhile, on the streets of Vancouver, hundreds of thousands began a celebration that surely will rival any Super Bowl or World Series, anywhere.

And why not? Canadians have the last gold medal, in the sport that they call their own. They also have a game, and a moment, that will live on in Olympic lore for generations to come.

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