He shoots, Canada soars: Gold medal in OT caps Winter Olympics triumph

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Brimming with pride as Olympic hosts, Canada exploded in a collective spasm of national joy Sunday as hockey hero Sidney Crosby dispatched the United States in a tightrope-tense hockey thriller, capping Vancouver's Games in the best possible way: with a record-setting 14th gold medal.

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Brimming with pride as Olympic hosts, Canada exploded in a collective spasm of national joy Sunday as hockey hero Sidney Crosby dispatched the United States in a tightrope-tense hockey thriller, capping Vancouver's Games in the best possible way: with a record-setting 14th gold medal.

Downtown Vancouver erupted in a din of car horns and cowbells in the seconds after Crosby put the puck through U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller's legs for a 3-2 overtime win, avenging the American domination of an Olympic podium Canada originally had designs on owning.

Instead, the host country was forced to settle for renting the podium's top floor: Sunday's triumph set an Olympic record for most gold-medal wins in a Winter Games.

"You're going to see a lot of kids growing up now wishing they were Crosby scoring in overtime and winning a gold medal," said veteran Canadian defenceman Chris Pronger.

"That's pretty special."

The partisan crowd - a roiling, flag-flapping ocean of Canadian colour, except for the odd island of Americana - shook Canada Hockey Place to its foundations when it was over, an uncharacteristic show of national pride rarely witnessed north of the 49th parallel.

"Before this, Canada only seemed patriotic when there was a beer commercial on TV," said Tony Sam, 41, who drove to Vancouver with friends from Chilliwack, B.C., to watch the game.

"This is the most exciting thing that's happened in Canada, maybe ever."

There wasn't a louder ovation in the building than during the medals ceremony, when International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge finally made his way to Crosby, the player with the highest number on his sweater - 87 - and the last to get his talisman.

"I dreamed of this moment," the 22-year-old Crosby said later. "It's pretty incredible."

Someone borrowed a massive Canadian flag from the ever-present fan with the flashing red-helmet light and Maple Leaf cape, and before too long the Canadian players, gold medals around their necks, were passing it back and forth for victory laps around the ice, the crowd cheering their flag-bearing favourites.

The rafters shook again when the pride of Cole Harbour, N.S., took hold of the flag and paraded it around the ice.

Heather Robins, 35, wore a Team Canada jersey with Maple Leaf emblems on her face as she watched the game on the scoreboard video screen at Rexall Place in Edmonton, along with more than 3,000 other Canadian fans. She predicted a win for Canada - and a game-winning goal for Crosby.

"It's just so great to be Canadian, it really is," Robins said. "I've always felt great to be a Canadian, but this is it. This is the icing on the cake."

Canada's 14th gold medal gave the host country a storybook ending to its 17-day Olympic epic. It broke by one medal the previous record for gold in the Winter Olympics, established in 1976 by the Soviet Union and tied by Norway in 2002.

It also set a new benchmark for the most gold medals to be awarded to a host nation at a Winter Games, and tops Canada's golden tally for any Olympics, winter or summer.

Seven silver and five bronze gave Canada a total of 26 medals overall, beating by two its previous Winter Games record set in Turin in 2006. That left Canada in third place in the medals race, behind the United States and Germany.

Canada's newest sentimental sweetheart, figure skater Joannie Rochette, who won a bronze just days after the death of her mom, later led Canada's athletes into B.C. Place stadium as the flag-bearer for the closing ceremonies, many with medals around their necks as they waved to the crowd and mugged for the cameras.

"I believe we Canadians tonight are stronger, more united, more in love with our country and more connected with each other than ever before. These Olympic Games have lifted us up," said John Furlong, the chief executive officer of the organizing committee, in his final words.

"If the Canada that came together on opening night was a little mysterious to some, it no longer is."

The ceremonies themselves poked fun at one of the biggest gaffes of the Games: when, during the opening ceremonies, one leg of the four-legged indoor Olympic cauldron failed to rise out of the floor, leaving torchbearer Catriona Le May Doan looking sheepish, with nothing to light.

On Sunday, with the awkward-looking three-legged structure back at centre stage, sparks jetted mischievously from the floor before a clownish handyman with red nose and white face-paint jumped out and began tugging on an imaginary rope.

The leg rose into position - as did Le May Doan, clad in the same torch-lighting attire she'd worn 17 days earlier as she emerged from a hole in the floor, Olympic torch in hand and a look of mock bewilderment on her face, before performing the lighting chore she was denied on Feb. 12.

"To the athletes of these Games, we say: You have made us proud," Rogge said in his traditional speech before officially declaring the Games closed.

"You are worthy role models. You have reminded us again that people from very different backgrounds can compete in a spirit of respect, friendship and fair play. May we all take that spirit home with us."

Once the Games were officially over, iconic Canadian troubadour Neil Young - not one given to public displays of sentimentality - performed "Long May You Run" before the flame was extinguished.

But the night wasn't over yet. A parade of Canadian actors, including William Shatner, Catherine O'Hara and Michael J. Fox, emerged to deliver parting shots in the form of tongue-in-cheek essays on the Canadian condition.

Crooner Michael Buble - dressed, briefly, as a Mountie, then as a Vegas lounge act - sang "The Maple Leaf Forever" in a massive show-stopper finale that included transforming the floor of B.C. Place into a massive table-hockey game, complete with rotating, two-dimensional players and a human puck.

Sunday was a night of celebration for which the country seemed to spend the entire day preparing. Even hours before the first puck dropped, every establishment in the downtown core with a bar and a flat-screen TV had fans lining up outside the door, looking for a place to watch the game.

Part of Yonge Street in Toronto was shut down as ecstatic fans converged on Dundas Square, hanging from the streetlights, flying the Canadian flag, cheering and singing the national anthem. Honking cars lined the adjoining streets, with passengers hanging out the windows, waving the flag and cheering.

"This is our generation's Summit Series," said Toronto resident Mike Navos, 28. "Lets's just celebrate and have a good time as a country."

In Halifax, fans in a packed downtown pub rose to their toes and roared after the winning goal.

"Sidney Crosby. What can you say?" shouted Gage Burke, 19. "What a goal. Canada played hard. They deserved to win for sure."

Even in the middle of the night at Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan, a raucous crowd of more than 100 Canadian soldiers jumped to its feet after Crosby scored, high-fiving, hugging and waving Canadian flags.

Capt. Barrie Ransome described the game as a "nailbiter."

"I was excited," he said. "I was hoping for the best and Sidney didn't disappoint us at all."