Crosby-led Canada looking to finish Olympic sequel

Team Canada's Sidney Crosby during the men's ice hockey semifinal game against Team USA at the...

Team Canada's Sidney Crosby during the men's ice hockey semifinal game against Team USA at the Bolshoy Ice Dome at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Friday Feb. 21, 2014. (Ben Pelosse/QMI Agency)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 12:14 PM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - The golden goal is four years in the past, though forever part of the Sidney Crosby legacy and the hockey-loving lore of the nation he so captured that day in Vancouver.

But as Canada wipes the collective sleep from its eyes this Sunday morning (and later afternoon here on the Russian coast of the Black Sea) Crosby and the 10 other returning members from the 2010 team are intent on finishing the sequel.

So different than 48 months ago, yet with a victory over Sweden, another chance to finish on the top international pedestal of their sport.

It is always about gold or bust at the Olympics for a Canadian hockey team — men or women. But since the NHL started participating, the pressure skyrocketed, the price of the fame and fortune that tails these professionals and their participation in the global sporting spectacle.

Depending on the market they play in at home, the attention and demand for success at the Olympic Games is like nothing they’ve ever experienced.

And in that regard, as he prepared to face the Swedes and their own collection of highly talented NHL players, Crosby acknowledged the depth of the challenge he willingly embraces.

“I think we feel pressure,” Crosby said following the team’s final practice before the gold medal game. “We know everybody’s watching.

“Our goal throughout this was to just progress and make sure that we’re improving. We’ve done a really good job of that. We’ve brought our game up to where it needs to be.”

Whether they leave the Bolshoy Ice Dome with gold or silver Sunday, the final medals to be awarded prior to the closing ceremony at Fisht Stadium, is the ultimate measure of this star-studded edition of Team Canada.

That said, the success of this Olympics for coach Mike Babcock and his team is beyond debate, even if it ends in a different hue than the Vancouver version.

That team had its own struggles, you will recall. There was a shootout against Switzerland. There was some key Roberto Luongo saves in one elimination game and then the Crosby heroics in overtime to win gold against the U.S.

You could argue ,then, that the effort here, up until the championship clash, has been more impressive.

Playing less with flash and more with efficiency, Canada piled up a perfect 5-0 record — the same as the Swedes — creating a final that guaranteed an undefeated Olympic champion for the first time since Sarajevo in 1994 when the Soviet Union went through unscathed.

As Babcock stubbornly argued over the last two weeks, getting to the final was the goal for the team and the demand from its fans. Four years ago, it was the pressure of winning at home, an assignment that blew up rather spectacularly on the Russians at these Games.

Added to the heat this time was the prospect of becoming the first Canadian team to win Olympic gold outside of North America in 62 years.

That led Babcock and his staff to force his team to play a style to which it is not accustomed. The bigger ice surface creates such a strain on the North American game, especially when Canada’s first four opponents all played an annoying version of the Euro defensive choke hold.

If the Canadians felt the pressure, however, they didn’t let it stray them from their course.

“I think pressure is what you put on yourself,” Babcock said on Saturday. “We’re here with an opportunity. Pressure simply means you have a chance. If you didn’t have a chance, there would be no pressure on you whatsoever. I’ll take pressure all day long.”

So will Crosby, who entered the gold medal game with just two assists and no goals, making him an easy target for those who didn’t pay attention and marvel at the blinding speed he played with in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Team USA.

But going through what he did in Vancouver has made Crosby stronger and the fact that so many of his teammates did the same helped them to stay on-task here.

“I think it helps,” the Cole Harbour, N.S. native said. “Having gone through that, knowing that the stakes are high, you want to be at your best.

“I think everybody understands that, but the experience of having gone through that in Vancouver, in Canada where there’s obviously a lot of pressure, you can feel it pretty quickly there, but hopefully that’s something that helps us here.”

Babcock knows it as well. Almost daily here, he’s talked about how even the competition is, particularly on the international ice sheets. He has also talked about the fact that as much as the majority of Canadians would love to view each game as a two-inch putt, there are no easy ones at the Olympics.

“It’s not about who scores the goals or who blocks the shots or who plays,” Babcock said. “It’s about winning. It’s about Canada. It’s about hockey supremacy.

“We like to brag that it’s our game? If you think it’s your game, you better show it’s your game.”

And on Sunday morning back home, millions of Canadians had the alarm set to find out just how ready the latest collection of superstars was to show the world just that.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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