After the Golden Goal, when jubilant members of Team Canada had ﬁnished mobbing Sidney Crosby, when the sticks had been gathered and the players made their way to the long blue carpet for their medals, a pleasing sight unfolded in Canada Hockey Place. The crowd began bobbing, twisting, to the rhythm of the Black Eyed Peas, and for a moment, you could look around at thousands of red maple leafs—on flags, placards, T-shirts and jerseys—brought to life simultaneously, as if by a gust of wind.
Down on the ice, the man of the moment looked up and smiled. Minutes earlier, Crosby had slid the puck under U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller for what will surely count among the greatest goals in Canadian hockey history—right up there with Paul Henderson’s in 1972. Now, as he stood at the end of the line awaiting his Olympic gold medal, the crowd began chanting his name. “Cros-by! Cros-by! Cros-by!”
There are moments in sports that define an athlete, and some that define a country. But seldom do the two converge as neatly as they did in the men’s hockey final at the 2010 Winter Games, where Canada defeated the U.S. 3-2. Crosby’s goal seven minutes, 40 seconds into overtime cut short an improbable comeback by the Americans and unleashed four years’ worth of pent-up emotions, dating back to Canada’s ignominious defeat at the Winter Games in Turin. Those feelings had only deepened in the early days of these Olympics, as Canadians had been alternately pitied and mocked for various glitches, not to mention our disappointing medal haul that first week.
Now, suddenly, we were on top of the world, winners of a record 14 gold medals at our own Games and Olympic champions in the sport we invented. “In Canada, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime to play hockey in the Olympics and win a gold medal,” Crosby told reporters with the gleaming bauble still hanging from his neck. “You dream of that moment a thousand times growing up. For it to come true is pretty amazing.”
Out in the arena concourse, fans hugged, cried and high-fived. Some confessed to panic after U.S. forward Zach Parise had tied the score with 24 seconds left, sensing the prelude to an epic defeat. Others claimed they never broke faith, and indulged in a bit of un-Canadian chest-thumping. “In other years you might have thought: ‘Oh, we’re going to lose,’ ” said Brian Miklaucic of Ottawa. “Not this year. This year it was ours.”
The last-minute dramatics made a fitting end to the hockey tournament as a whole, which had featured operatic levels of triumph, humiliation and intrigue. Who would have predicted the rise of countries like Switzerland and Slovakia at the expense of established hockey powers like the Czechs and the Swedes? Who knew that the Americans were this good—not just fast but mean?
Finally, and most importantly, who would have bet on the utter collapse of Russia in its long-anticipated showdown with Team Canada?
If you had to put a banner on it, the word would be renewal. Young stars like Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty and Shea Weber emerged during these two weeks as Team Canada’s leadership core for years to come. In goal, the great Martin Brodeur gave way to Roberto Luongo, who backstopped his team through its last four games. And Canada isn’t the only country enjoying a new golden age, notes Steve Yzerman, the executive director of Team Canada. “We’re entering into an incredible period with the talent all around the world, the Ovechkins, the Malkins, the Patrick Kanes, Zach Parises,” he said. “The game is in a good position now.”