VANCOUVER – He has been singled out for scrutiny since he was a child and borne the hopes and expectations of the most hockey-mad country on earth for as long as he can remember.
Sidney Crosby has handled all that not just without complaint, but with class and a sense of duty that bring honor to the teams he leads, the League in which he stars and the nation he represents. And from winning an Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring champ to a Hart Trophy as League MVP to captaining a Stanley Cup champion, he has met every challenge put before him.
Sunday afternoon, with just about every person in Canada Hockey Place and all of Canada counting on him to come through, Crosby took it to another level. Not only did he win a gold medal, he scored the winning goal in overtime.
For Canada. On Canadian soil.
"It's so fitting," said Jarome Iginla, the gentleman elder statesman of Team Canada who set up Crosby's winner. "It's funny. There's so much pressure on him. I mean, we win a semifinal game and we're into the finals and all people are asking is: 'But what about Sid? What about Sid?'
"You know, he's playing well. He's playing hard. He's getting lots of chances. They're always trying to shut him down. That's the first guy they think about. And he just keeps going. He just keeps playing hard. He just keeps battling.
"He had a great tournament and people aren't satisfied unless he gets two or three goals a game. And it never fazes him. It's all about the team and he just goes about his way. It is awesome to see him finish it."
Eight months ago, Crosby had a similar, life-altering moment. But the game-ending moments couldn't have been more different.
His left knee injured from a hit late in the second period, Crosby had to sit on the bench and agonize, helpless to lead or even contribute on the ice, as his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates held off the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. But when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman handed Crosby the Cup, making the 21-year-old the youngest captain in League history to hoist it, he reacted as if he had scored the winning goal in overtime.
Sunday afternoon, that's just what he did. In a moment that made you simultaneously ask: Could it possibly have been Sidney Crosby? And: Could it possibly have been anybody else?
"Oh, I don't know. I guess that's for you guys to say," a grinning Crosby replied to the latter question. "But I'm happy. I'm just like every other guy on the team who grew up a proud Canadian and dreamed about playing for Team Canada one day. And we all dreamed about scoring this goal. It could easily have been someone else. I'm happy I had the chance to do it."
All of Canada was happy Crosby had the chance. Perhaps, had it been somebody else – somebody with less of a sense of the grand moment or less poise when confronted by them – he would have tried to do too much or crumbled under the enormity. Crosby did what he usually does: He performed.
He did not allow himself to be numbed by having had the gold medal roll off his stick about a half-hour earlier. In on a breakaway that would have iced the game with 3:15 left in the third, Crosby couldn't get control of a puck that began to behave like a jumping bean until Patrick Kane, racing to catch him from behind, swatted the disk away.
So Crosby was left to sit on the bench hoping time would run out when Zach Parise slammed home the tying goal with 24.4 left to send it to overtime. As it turned out, that merely added to what already was an astounding hockey game – while setting the stage for Crosby.
Chasing a puck that was winding up the boards to the right of brilliant American goaltender Ryan Miller, Crosby and U.S. defenseman Brian Rafalski were thrown a wrinkle when the disk got tangled in the skates of referee Bill McCreary. Rafalski, who had a superb tournament, slammed on the brakes. Crosby, stopped and started just a hair quicker and nudged the puck down low to Iginla.
With American defenseman Ryan Suter closing on him, Iginla relayed right back to Crosby, who was cutting in through the left circle with Rafalski in hot pursuit. Crosby had time, but he didn't take it. He snapped a shot along the ice that got to the point of no return quicker than Miller could get his butterflying pads together.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," he said. "I barely remember what happened on the play. I just threw it at the net and then our guys were jumping on me. It was everything and more than I could imagine."
The thing is, Crosby actually had dared to imagine such an outlandish scenario – plenty of times.
"Yeah, I did dream about it -- probably a thousand times," he said, grinning. "But you never know if it's going to come true. You never know if you're going to be in this position. And that's the thing. You get in these situations and you never know when they're going to come again."
The other thing is: When situations like this arise for Sidney Crosby, he seizes them. Like few ever have or ever could.
"I just keep going back to: He's such a young person," said Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman, who knows all about being a youngster asked to lead a franchise. "And to have the weight of the country on his shoulders, and it's not just necessarily good enough for him to win, he's got to lead the team in scoring. That's a lot to put on a young player.
"So I thought he had a good tournament. I thought he conducted himself well under immense pressure. I think he did fantastic."