By Steve Keating
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - "Sid the Kid" became "the Man" by scoring what will be forever remembered as Canada's golden goal in a 3-2 Olympic final overtime win over the United States on Sunday to cap one of the most compelling sporting showdowns ever seen on a sheet of ice.
Just 22-years-old, Sidney Crosby stepped up and seized his place among the pantheon of hockey greats with a goal that sparked wild celebration across the length of the entire country.
It was the hosts' 14th gold, the most ever by any country at a Winter Games, and fittingly the milestone medal was the one that mattered more than any other to hockey-mad Canadians.
It was also fitting that the country's biggest goal since the 1972 Summit Series against Russia should come from Crosby, the fresh-faced all-Canadian boy who will now take his place in the hearts of his fellow countrymen alongside Paul Henderson.
In much the same way Americans can recall where they were when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Canadians can tell you exactly where they were on September 28, 1972 when Henderson scored the most famous goal in Canadian history.
Now a new generation of Canadians will have their own moment, recalling where they were when "Sid the Kid" came to Canada's rescue, swiping a wrist shot past American netminder Ryan Miller 7:40 into overtime to end an afternoon of gut-wrenching drama.
"It doesn't even feel real, it's like a dream," Crosby told reporters. "This is just an unbelievable feeling.
"I felt like I was getting chances, Iggy (Jarome Iginla) was getting chances and eventually it was going to go in.
"I waited to the last possible moment so it was nice to see it go in."
No happier than 33 million Canadians, who had been dreaming of this day since Vancouver was awarded the Winter Games.
As Crosby drove his arms into the air, the capacity crowd in Canada Hockey Place stood and roared, the seething sea of red exploding in celebration which rocked the arena and thundered across the country.
In Vancouver, hordes of people who had flooded into the downtown core for the big game poured out of the bars and restaurants for one big street party.
The joyous scene was repeated across the country from Crosby's hometown of Cole Harbour Nova, Scotia to Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.
"I can only imagine (how the country is feeling)," said Crosby. "I remember the way it was when they won in 2002 (Olympics).
"I remember being on my street and I'm sure it's pretty amazing.
"You dream of that scenario. You dream of that opportunity.
"You never know if you get to this point if you will get that chance again, so it's an incredible experience."
Canada marched on to the ice with the look of a team on a mission, swarming on to the attack right from the opening face-off but the U.S., who beat Canada 5-3 in the preliminary rounds, would not be intimidated.
Jonathan Toews scored the only goal in a close opening period and Corey Perry added another in the second to stake Canada to a 2-0 lead and get the party rolling inside a pulsating arena.
The young Americans did not lie down, however, and Ryan Kesler trimmed the lead to 2-1.
Zach Parise sent the final event of the Winter Olympics into overtime when he scored with just 24 seconds left in regulation to cap a determined U.S. comeback and momentarily drive a spike into Canadian hearts.
"It's the biggest game any of us has ever been in and it's devastating," said American defenseman Jack Johnson. "We were one goal away from winning a gold medal."
(Editing by Ed Osmond/Jon Bramley)