Just when you thought Sidney Crosby could not possibly one-up himself, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Team Canada superstar goes and scores the Olympic gold-medal winner ... in overtime ... in front of 20,000 delirious Canadian fans. If you are Canadian, it does not get any better than that. If you are a hockey fan, it does not get any better than that. If you are an American hockey fan living outside the greater Pittsburgh area - well, it probably gets a bit better than that, but even then you would have to tip your hat to the greatest hockey player on the planet.
Can there be any doubt? Alex Ovechkin, Crosby's nemesis and chief rival in the NHL, entered the Olympics with grand ambitions, but did little to change any minds as Russia stumbled through the round-robin before being dispatched by Canada 7-3 in the quarter-finals. Crosby, who captained the Stanley Cup-winning Penguins to glory last spring, delivered pure gold to the Olympic host nation when he snapped a wrist shot past Ryan Miller, the US goaltender.
It was a stinging moment for Miller, who was phenomenal from the start of the Games to the very finish, and the biggest reason Team USA made such a big impression on the rest of the hockey world. But in the end, it was Crosby's moment and while he was typically humble in his words - "I didn't see it go in, I just shot it" - he was also typically terrific in his actions. As always, the bigger the game, the bigger Crosby seems to play.
He was held off the score sheet in the quarterfinals against Russia and the semi-finals against Slovakia - and through three periods of play in the gold-medal final - but when a half-chance presented itself, Crosby yelled for his linemate Jarome Iginla to pass him the puck - and the rest is hockey history. Like Paul Henderson in 1972 and Mario Lemieux in 1987 (who both scored series-clinching goals against the Soviet Union), Crosby con-verted a scoring play at a crucial moment, and instantly became a Canadian hero. And an Olympic hero, too, unless you are Miller's mother.
Of course, none of us should be surprised at another impressive line on Crosby's long and impressive hockey resume. He has teased scouts with his talent since the tender age of 13. He was named Canadian major junior's player of the year twice, he was dubbed the "Next One" when drafted into the NHL first overall in 2005, he won the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer and the Hart Trophy as the MVP at age 20.
This season, he was tied with Ovechkin for the NHL goal-scoring lead when the league schedule reached the Olympic break. In short, when it comes to sticks, skates and pucks, Crosby has surpassed sky-high expectations at virtually every stage of his career. It is the rare mark of true greatness, when an athlete is able to perform beyond even fans' imaginations. Wayne Gretzky did it, time and time again, as did Lemieux after him.
Now it is Crosby's turn, and the young man they still call "Sid the Kid" has carved out his own legendary niche. And, like the great Canadian centre Mark Messier, it is all about winning, and performing at a sublime level when the stakes are the highest. Crosby, like Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic, is a combination of ultra-elite skill and dogged determination; he is already the best in the game, but he wants to be the best Sidney Crosby he can be, too.
And if you are an ice hockey fan - from any country or of any NHL team - it does not get any better than that. @Email:email@example.com