VANCOUVER – For a moment there, Zach Parise's stature was almost on par with Mike Eruzione.
And then the kid took over.
Sidney Crosby's game winning goal 7:40 into overtime gave Canada its much coveted gold medal, its second since 2002, and one of the greatest games the Olympic stage has ever seen. The 22-year-old hockey prodigy from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, put home the country's biggest goal since Paul Henderson clinched the 1972 Summit Series.
"It doesn't even feel real. It feels like a dream," said Crosby during the postgame celebration. "Our team worked really hard in regulation time and they got that one by us in the end. But we came out in overtime and this is just an unbelievable feeling."
Crosby's heroics were the finishing touch on these Vancouver games, a back and fourth hockey game that lived up to its label as the most anticipated event at an Olympics since the Kerrigan-Harding saga of Lillehammer. In the end, the Canadians swept both hockey podiums, as they did in Salt Lake, and became the first team to win a gold medal on home soil since the "Miracle Men" of Lake Placid.
The "Miracle" that was on the back of everyone's mind as the Americans tied the game with just under 25 seconds to go.
U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller was pulled with 1:27 to go in regulation, setting up a six-man attack with the three forwards that had carried them through the tournament in Patrick Kane, Jamie Langenbrunner and Zach Parise. With 30 seconds left, Kane shot the puck, deflecting off of Langenbrunner's skate and hitting goaltender Roberto Luongo. The rebound trickled out to Parise who put home the game-tying goal.
The building and the entire Canadian nation was in a state of shock. The U.S. fans, vastly outnumbered by their neighbours to the north, shook Canada Hockey Place with chants of U-S-A, U-S-A, all as legends Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Mark Messier looked on.
But Crosby's opportunity came in overtime when Brian Rafalski, who had carried the Americans defensively all tournament long, turned the puck over in the U.S. zone to Jarome Iginla. A backhanded pass later, the puck was on Crosby's stick, beating Miller and setting off a parade of red and white jubilation in the streets.
"He's just such a big guy on our team," Patrice Bergeron said. "He's the guy you want with the puck on his stick when it really counts. I think you saw that against Switzerland."
That game against Switzerland, a game the Canadians needed a shootout winner by Crosby seemed so long ago. As did that look of stunned bewilderment on the streets of the Olympic city after last week's 5-3 loss to the Americans, a loss that put the Canadians off the beaten path on the road to gold.
Crosby, who played just one shift in the third period of Game 7 of last June's Stanley Cup final after taking a hit to the boards, adds this to a stellar resume that includes a pair of Stanley Cup trips, a championship ring and, on a league-wide scale, establishing the Winter Classic as one of the NHL's must-see events.
Crosby's game-winner in the first Winter Classic, like his goal to seal Olympic gold, came against Ryan Miller.
"He's just such a special player," said Joe Thornton. "For him to accomplish what he's accomplish is just amazing. Great for the game and under the pressure is just amazing."