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Of all the gold medals won by Canada at the Winter Olympics, the last may have been the most important. Canadians set a record for the most gold, and they've been celebrating in a way that Canadians themselves say is almost un-Canadian. NPR's Tom Goldman reports on the game that brought Canada its fourteenth gold.
TOM GOLDMAN: During the Olympic hockey tournament, whenever a team scored, it was followed by a five-second horn blast. Here's the one that rang out yesterday afternoon at Canada Hockey Place, the last one of the men's competition.
(Soundbite of crowd cheering, horn blast)
GOLDMAN: A full 10 seconds, maybe so everyone could hear - not just the nearly 20,000 in the arena, but the millions of Canadians around the country who had just watched their national team hero, Sidney Crosby, score a goal for the ages. That goal beat the archrival United States three to two in sudden death overtime, earning Canada a gold medal - the gold medal of the Vancouver games.
Hours before that crowning moment, Shane Connell from Alberta sat in his seat at Canada Hockey Place and explained why the game to come was so significant -so much more than, say, a National Hockey League championship.
Mr. SHANE CONNELL: It's not like a final(ph). It's pride in your team, as a team, this is a country. And we're - what? Two of 20,000 people that are going to be at the game? That's once in a lifetime.
GOLDMAN: When your once-in-a-lifetime moment is about to end well, it's exciting. So it was a few hours later that Shane Connell and everyone else wearing red Canada hockey jerseys - which was pretty much everyone - stood and roared and prepared a victory celebration liftoff just 25 seconds away.
(Soundbite of crowd cheering)
GOLDMAN: Oops, with 24.4 seconds left in regulation, U.S. forward Zach Parise, a star during the Americans' undefeated march to the final, scored and tied the game and put Canadian good manners to the ultimate test. The fans were stunned. The Canadian players were reminded: You play it safe, you can lose the game. Sidney Crosby.
Mr. SIDNEY CROSBY (Professional Ice Hockey Player, Team Canada): You get a 2-1 lead, you've got the whole country watching, you want to win so bad, you're -you know, you're just - you always say you don't want to sit back, but you can see the guys watching the clock tick down and, you know, just trying to hang on.
GOLDMAN: Perhaps a positive for the Canadians, they dealt with adversity all tournament long: an earlier loss to the U.S., a shaky ending in their semi-final victory over Slovakia. What's a little sudden death overtime with the hopes of a nation riding on your shoulders?
Canada was aggressive right away, firing shot after shot at Ryan Miller, the superb American goalie. Seven-and-a-half minutes into overtime, Canadian forward Jerome Iginla, pinned against the boards with the puck, saw Crosby break for the U.S. goal and called for a pass.
Mr. JEROME IGINLA (Professional Hockey Player, Team Canada): Oh, yeah. He yelled for it. Oh, yeah. He yelled for it. He was talking all tournament about, you know, as a line, communicating and, you know, if you spy someone, just to yell at me. And we were saying it all the time, you know, just to let me know when he's open and stuff. And he let me know there. He was screaming.
GOLDMAN: Crosby took the pass.
Mr. CROSBY: I just threw at the net. You know, I wasn't really aiming for anything.
GOLDMAN: Good throw, Sid. We know what the reaction was at Canada Hockey Place. Here's how it sounded in downtown Vancouver, where thousands more gathered to watch on a big screen.
(Soundbite of crowd cheering)
GOLDMAN: Crosby called his winning goal a Canadian kid's dream come true. On top of everything, the gold medal was the fourteenth for Canada in these games, most for any country in a Winter Olympics, a stat not lost on Iginla.
Mr. IGINLA: Watch other Olympics and you're watching the gold medal hunt, and we're not really in it. You know what I mean? But we were looking for our first one at home, and to all of the sudden be setting a record and to get to be part of that, I'm very proud and it's an awesome feeling.
GOLDMAN: Let the record show that a week ago, disappointing performances by Canadian Olympians prompted the head of the country's Olympic Committee to publicly abandon the goal of Own the Podium. That's the controversial program designed to helped Canada win the most medals at the Vancouver Games. But from that moment on, Canada started winning medals, especially gold.
The Olympic Committee head said the debate over Own the Podium actually was good for Canadians. It made them think about whether outward displays of confidence and yes, athletic bravado fit their character. Whether it fits or not, the message after a two-and-a-half week roller coaster ride: We are number one.
Tom Goldman, NPR News, Vancouver.
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