Although their loyalties -- and, ultimately, joy or heartbreak -- were determined by the world's longest undefended border that separates them, the tens of millions of television viewers in Canada and the United States who watched Sunday's Olympic final surely agree on one thing -- they were witness to a game for the ages.
"It was a great day for hockey," blared the headline across the top of Monday morning's Lawrence (Mass.) Eagle-Tribune, and we couldn't agree more.
The passion so evident in the players and fans at Canada Hockey Place spilled onto the front pages of newspapers across the continent Monday.
"Has your heart stopped pounding?" asked Bucky Gleason in the Buffalo News. "The hockey gods were kind enough to bless the gold medal game with overtime, bonus action in a classic matchup between the two superpowers. It merely added more drama, more intensity and more passion to what could go into the books as the most entertaining game in Olympic history. Or hockey history. Where does this one rank? Up there. Way up there."
"I swear there was an anxious moment Sunday, during one of the greatest hockey games ever played, when hearts in both countries beat as one, at about 125 nervous thumps per minute," Mark Kiszla wrote in the Denver Post.
"It was a wonderfully played game on many levels -- close-and-tight checking to start, with strong goaltending at both ends throughout," wrote Eric Duhatschek in the Globe and Mail. "The nerves and what players like to call the 'compete' level were at a fever pitch throughout."
"The game was played with a desperate ferocity, and at eye-watering speed," wrote Bruce Arthur in the National Post. "Every goal-mouth scrum was the fall of Saigon; bodies were being thrown around as if everyone involved forgot there is a quarter of the NHL season left to play. Every puck mattered; every play mattered. Everything mattered."
"Their game, their gold -- but the Olympic hockey finale between Canada and the United States belonged to history before the roars triggered by Sidney Crosby
's overtime goal had faded by so much as a decibel Sunday," added Helene Elliott in the Los Angeles Times.
"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," wrote Michael Russo in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
"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."
"The miracle on ice this time was the game itself, played for 67 minutes, 40 seconds at a breathtaking and break-neck pace," wrote Sam Donnellon in the Philadelphia Daily News. "Breathtaking if you were (Patrick) Kane or Crosby or anyone who jumped on and off the ice. Breathtaking if you were one of the lucky 18,000 fans or so who managed to get inside the building or among the 100,000 who assembled outside of it, or among the millions who watched in both countries."
"In the purest hockey sense, the 2010 Olympic tournament now stands as the greatest display of the game ever put forth. Never have so many international teams been so stacked with talent. Never has so much compelling hockey been played over a stretch of 30 games in a span of a fortnight," Michael Arace wrote in the Columbus Dispatch.
"This was supposed to be Sidney Crosby
's Olympics and, in the end, the very end, it was," concluded Chris Stevenson in the Ottawa Sun. "Ending an afternoon of hockey that will go down as one of the greatest in the game, Crosby scored at 7:40 of overtime to give Canada a 3-2 win and the gold medal, a shot from the left wing circle beating American goaltender Ryan Miller
between the pads. For a game as hyped as this one -- perhaps the most anticipated game in Canadian hockey history given it was the Olympics and taking place on Canadian soil -- the players did a remarkable job fulfilling the expectation. That is saying something.
"Forget the price of condos or housing here. The costliest real estate was every inch of the ice at (Canada Hockey) Place, players on both sides unyielding in giving any of it up without making the other guy pay. The intensity in each puck battle, among some of the most skilled players, who are not particularly known for having heavy sticks or the will to scratch and claw, was off the charts, sticks chopping, elbows flying."
There was much more on Crosby from his NHL home.
"A civic treasure took down the national team. For people watching in Pittsburgh, it surely brought mixed emotions," wrote Dejan Kovacevic in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "U.S. defenseman Brooks Orpik
, Crosby's teammate with the Penguins, might have summed up such sentiments best: 'You never want to lose. But, if you're going to lose, I'm happy Sid had success.'
"And for Crosby ...Well, where to start? He arrived in Vancouver as nothing less than the anointed star of the XXI Winter Olympics. Steve Yzerman
, Canada's general manager, publicly called Crosby 'the face' of the team, and several of Crosby's teammates shared that stance, all comfortable with a 22-year-old carrying the hopes of a hockey-mad citizenry.
"No one looked more comfortable with that, predictably, than Crosby: He answered the bulk of the Canadian reporters' relentless questions about 'pressure,' led some of the team's stretches and drills in practice even though defenseman Scott Niedermayer
was captain and, in the end, he delivered the first sudden-death overtime goal in Olympic gold-medal history.
"Perhaps fittingly, Crosby was the last athlete at these Olympics to have a gold medal draped around his or her neck, standing at the climactic end of Canada's podium line."
"The Kid's legend grows, doesn't it?" chimed in Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook. "I'm sure there have been better sporting events with a better finish over the years. Darned, though, if I can think of one at the moment."
Crosby's heroics didn't shock Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan: "So how could anyone be surprised that in an hour of monumental national need, the 22-year-old wonderchild with the 42-year-old head blasted the puck past the quasi-impregnable Ryan Miller
at 7:40 of overtime to give his homeland the gold medal that, for millions upon millions of Canadians, was worth more than the other 13 put together?"
For millions of Canadians, Crosby's game-winner evoked memories of past hockey triumphs.
"There is a new hockey game, a new hockey moment, a new national memory to cherish forever," according to Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun. "There was one game with everything to lose and everything to win for Team Canada and everyone watching. And in the best of Canadian hockey traditions it could have gone either way, but just as Paul Henderson
did 38 years ago in Moscow, Sidney Crosby
made history all his own here in Vancouver. Just as Henderson did, Crosby found a way."
"Henderson was a spectacular surprise and the moment found him," recalled Damien Cox in the Toronto Star. "Crosby was no surprise. He was expected to do it. And when it didn't seem as if he would produce the moment in an Olympic tournament that appeared determined to push him to the rear and make him something other than the main story, he did it anyway.
"He found the moment. And therein lies the difference."
Despite the loss, commentators praised Team USA's inspired performance.
"At some point -- sometime after the sound of 'O Canada' stops ringing in their ears -- the American silver medalists will be able to get to that place where they can enjoy the undeniable accomplishments of the past two weeks," wrote Craig Custance in The Sporting News. "In time, the sting of losing this game will surely give way to the understanding much was accomplished by Team USA in Vancouver ... It was a special group, this team of overachieving Americans.
"'I couldn't have asked anything more of our players,' (coach Ron) Wilson said. 'It's just a shame that both teams couldn't have received a gold medal today. Sometimes, the best team in the tournament doesn't win a gold medal.'
"There will be a day that the hockey world looks back at these Olympic Games as the arrival of a great generation of American hockey players -- even if they weren't feeling like that late Sunday afternoon."
From Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer: "The men of Team Right Stuff didn't have to lower their heads to accept their silver medals. Their heads were already hanging -- from exhaustion and from disappointment and from the fresh sting of losing, yes, but not from shame.
"They lost one of the greatest Olympic hockey games ever played because the world's best player scored in overtime on his home soil. It was a final worthy of the advance billing, a fitting end to the Vancouver Games, and Team USA played a gallant role yesterday.
"It was a story with plenty of heroes and no villains. It was the story of a breathtaking hockey tournament ending with a nation exhaling at once. It was Canada's story, ultimately. Team Right Stuff turned it into a classic."
Columnist Tom Davis, writing in the Fort Wayne (Ind.) News-Sentinel, correctly pointed to the success of grass-roots programs as a key to Team USA's performance.
"People in Fort Wayne understand the magnitude of what America just witnessed -- because they understand hockey, and they understand how the sport is quickly evolving throughout the country," Davis wrote. "The interest at the grass-roots level is exactly why the U.S. team was able to take Canada to the extreme Sunday. The American team was composed of young players (the average age was barely 26 years) and more importantly, players from a wide range of geographic areas. The U.S. players hailed from California to New York and eight other states in between.
"Those players are products of collegiate and junior hockey programs all over the northeast and Midwest -- places just like Fort Wayne. U.S. defenseman Jack Johnson
, an Indianapolis native, can teach area kids that you no longer have to live in Minnesota or Massachusetts to have visions of gold (medals) in your future.
"Sixteen of the American players were born after 1982, and just three players on the roster had any previous Olympic experience. So let the message be sent that yes, Canada, Russia, Sweden and the rest of the world, here come the Americans -- and we're not leaving anytime soon. America's future in this sport is now, and it's only going to get brighter."
Of course, there also was special praise for the Olympic tournament MVP, Team USA goaltender Ryan Miller
of the Buffalo Sabres
largely has been lauded as the NHL’s best goalie this season and he long has been beloved in Buffalo, where he stars for the Sabres," wrote the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Michael Russo. "But after his tremendous play wearing the red, white and blue, Miller certainly has become a household name inside the United States."
"Every hockey fan in Western New York will want to be in HSBC Arena on Wednesday night, when Ryan Miller
skates onto the ice before the game against Alex Ovechkin
and the Capitals," Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan wrote before the gold-medal game.
"Win or lose, he has carved out a permanent spot in the hearts of Buffalo fans. Everyone wants to see Miller, to embrace him, to be part of his orbit. Of course, Miller's play inspires a larger hope, something more personal to this town. It allows Sabres fans to believe he will some day win a Stanley Cup. If Miller can play this way with the whole world watching, on the Canadians' home turf, there's no telling what he might accomplish.
"He has validated himself as a big-game goaltender in Vancouver. Several of his NHL equals have crumpled under the pressure: Martin Brodeur
, Miikka Kiprusoff
, Evgeni Nabokov
. Miller has risen to the challenge. He has embraced the spotlight, not only as an athlete but as a public figure.
"He is a sincere, accountable pro, and Buffalo fans appreciate it. Miller was the most popular athlete in town before the Olympic run. His popularity is off the charts now."
Indeed, every participant in yesterday's classic returns to his NHL club a hockey hero.
"Barely 24 hours after the medals were doled out, players on both teams were scheduled to be back in the NHL," wrote Jim Litke with the Associated Press. "Yet the next time their paths cross, everyone who played in this game will be able to look one another in the eye and remember the magic they created."