A perfect ending for Canada's Games

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 28, 2010 

Performers dance around the cauldron during the closing ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics. (George Bridges/MCT)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Olympics went into overtime on Sunday.

It was perfect. No one wanted the Warmest Games to end. Warmest weather. Warmest hosts.

So it was only fitting that Canada's 2010 Winter Olympics reached a crescendo with the hockey showdown between neighbors and rivals, between inventor of the game and emulator, between Canada and the U.S.

It was only fitting that Canada won, 3-2, at home, in the finale, on a shot by its favorite son, causing coast-to-coast mayhem.

The Games had been building to this perfect ending for 16 days, after a tragic start and a halting first week of dismal weather and disappointing results by Canadian athletes.

The winner of the hockey game was poised to be the winner of the Olympics. Would it be the U.S., which set a record by winning 37 medals? Or would it be Canada, which could set a record with its 14th gold medal and triumph in the sport that is not just national pastime but national passion?

When U.S. forward Zach Parise sent the game into overtime with 24.4 seconds left, all of Canada groaned. After a shot bounced off goalie Roberto Luongo, Parise found the puck at his feet, like a lucky silver dollar, and punched it into the net to tie the score 2-2. Inside Canada Hockey Place, Canadian fans dropped their heads into their laps at the same instant American fans leapt out of their seats.

It was time for 20 more minutes of the Olympics. "Prolongation" it said on the bilingual scoreboard.

Perfect.

Even more perfect when Sidney Crosby scored 7:40 into a frenzied OT with a low laser that went between goalie Ryan Miller's legs. Sid the Kid is the Canadian hockey archetype — small-town son of a goalkeeper, learned to shoot in his basement, and each time he missed the net, he dented his mother's clothes dryer. Crosby, Stanley Cup captain for the Penguins, looks like a boy band rock star.

When Crosby scored, a roar rumbled through Vancouver and across this vast country, from English Bay to the Bay of Fundy, from Moose Jaw to Moncton, from Nunavut to Newfoundland, from pub to curling club.

Crosby grinned, raised his arms, shed his gloves. Canada's bench emptied onto the ice. Ships in Vancouver's port blew their horns. One clever captain did it in the cadence of the "O, Canada" anthem refrain.

Perfect ending for Canada's Games. The U.S. got its medal haul. Canada struck gold.

Perfect setup: The U.S. won this year's world junior title, the Canadian women won the gold medal Thursday. The U.S. beat Canada 5-3 in the first round and the young Americans played brilliantly Sunday, but Luongo kept turtling on top of their shots.

Perfect setting: The arena was filled with fans wearing red or white Maple Leaf jerseys with such names as Orr, Gretzky, Yzerman, Sakic. They held up signs: "Miller Time Is Over," "Hockey Is Canada's Game," "Hey, Sid, Check Out My Soft Hands," "Someone Offered Me $50,000 For This Seat But I'm Canadian, Eh." (And outside the arena: "My Kidney For A Ticket.")

Perfect hero. Wayne Gretzky was the Great One. Crosby, born 8/~7, No. 87, is the Next One.

Perfect joy. Two thirds of Canada's population (which is about a tenth of the U.S.) watched on TV and the broadcast was expected to be the highest-rated program in Canada's history.

"My heart was skipping beats," said fan Jason Hatter of Kelowna, holding his sleeping 2-month-old son Thomas, who was wearing earphones, a red jersey and red leather booties.

"Mine stopped beating," said his wife, Dayna.

Canada had to win.

"We're proud of silver in other sports but not in hockey," said Dawn Turner of Ontario, who witnessed Canadian gold in moguls, ice dancing, speedskating, women's bobsled and men's curling.

Canadians grow up skating. Hockey is in their DNA.

"I played on a frozen creek and my dad flooded our yard, too," said Nicole Thoms, Toronto native. Her husband Roland wore a Mountie hat. "I watched hockey with my dad, married a hockey player and my son plays. It never stops."

The game was preceded by another incredible finish. Seventy miles north in Whistler, Norway's Petter Northug won gold by .03 seconds. After cross country skiing 30 miles. Northug passed Germany's Axel Teichmann on the final straightaway as cowbells echoed across the snow. The top three skiers crossed the line within one second of each other. After 30 miles.

At Closing Ceremonies, Canada mocked its Opening Ceremonies cauldron malfunction when Catriona LeMay-Doan re-appeared with her torch. Figure skating bronze medalist Joannie Rochette, whose mother died of a heart attack two days before she competed, was Canada's flagbearer.

Perfect. A storybook farewell to the Sea to Sky Games.

"It doesn't feel real," Crosby said. "It feels like a dream."

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