By Michael Russo Star Tribune
VANCOUVER, B.C. — Zach Parise lifted the silver medal draped around his neck, stared at it for half a second and dropped it disgustedly to his chest.
“I thought we had another chance to win,” Parise said, disappointedly. “When you go from that high down to that low, I can’t even describe it. It just ended.”
With a party stretching from Victoria to Newfoundland seconds from erupting Sunday, Parise caused an entire nation to lose its pulse for several terrifying minutes when his last-minute, tying goal exemplified exactly why he is considered the United States’ brightest star.
But if hockey is, indeed, Canada’s game like all the posters inside Canada Hockey Place claimed during this incredible two-week Olympic tournament, Sidney Crosby is the face of Canadian hockey.
And Canada’s hockey hero delivered yet again with the biggest overtime goal in Canadian Olympic history to knock off the rival Americans on Canadian soil for a thrilling, 3-2 gold medal triumph.
“It doesn’t even feel real. It feels like a dream,” Crosby said. “You dream of that moment a thousand times growing up, and for it to come true is pretty amazing.”
It’s not often games live up to every speck of hype, but this 67-minute, 40-second nail-biting, high-octane, physical, fight-for-every-feasible-inch-of-ice hockey game would be impossible to match.
Players exuded every ounce of energy for their country’s sweater, but in the end, it was the Canadian flag being paraded around the 200-foot sheet of ice.
“This game showed all the good there is in hockey,” said Jamie Langenbrunner, who battled relentlessly all tournament and showed why his choice as U.S. captain was a no-brainer. “The heart and determination everybody plays with, the battle level, the character of the athletes, it’s a pretty special sport.
“It was a fun game to be a part of. Wish I could be on the other end of it.”
He almost was.
Parise, perhaps the only American who would have been a shoo-in to make the star-studded Canadian roster if he had been born in Red Deer or Moose Jaw and not Minnesota, tied the score with 24.4 seconds left when he crashed the net and buried Patrick Kane’s shot that deflected off Langenbrunner’s skate.
The arena went silent. Parise sprinted to the glass in elation.
“I was really excited. We got another crack at it,” Parise said.
The 20-minute overtime would be played 4-on-4 though, which gave the Canadians more of an advantage than if it was 5-on-5. That’s because once the ice opened up, Canada’s stars were given more of a canvas on which to perform.
Other than one Joe Pavelski chance, the Americans never threatened Canadian goalie Roberto Luongo in OT while Ryan Miller had to come up big against Jarome Iginla, Scott Niedermayer, Dany Heatley and Rick Nash.
Crosby, who was quiet most of the game, needed only one chance to stick the dagger in the Americans’ heart.
After a puck hit referee Bill McCreary’s skate and changed direction, Iginla went into the corner prepping to battle defenseman Ryan Suter.
But suddenly Iginla heard Crosby yell.
“There’s different pitches of yell, and you can tell he had a step,” Iginla said.
Crosby did, on defenseman Brian Rafalski. Iginla made a perfect pass that Crosby buried through Miller’s pads while Iginla was face-first on the ice. It was just a great play by two great players.
“I couldn’t believe it. It was done,” Iginla said. “I didn’t see where he put it. I just saw him jumping around.”
The fans went into a frenzy, soon chanting, “CROSBY! CROSBY!”
“Guys like that find a way,” defenseman Chris Pronger said.
For Canada, the victory meant national pride.
For the Americans, there was, as Bloomington’s Erik Johnson said, “complete disappointment” over their silver medals. “It’s something none of us want.”
But as teammate Brooks Orpik said, “You let the dust settle and get some time to reflect, I think this group will be proud of what we accomplished. Nobody gave us a chance to even medal.”
Winning gold and beating the Canadians in such a partisan environment could have been a seminal moment for USA Hockey. Not much was expected of Team USA in this tournament, yet behind Miller’s brilliance in goal, a bunch of hungry forwards and an underestimated blue line, the Americans played on par with the Canadian superstars.