Men's Olympic hockey honoured

Team Canada's Sidney Crosby poses with his medal after winning Olympic gold in overtime last...

Team Canada's Sidney Crosby poses with his medal after winning Olympic gold in overtime last February. (QMI Agency/Andre Forget)

DAVE POLLARD, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:14 PM ET

The image of Sidney Crosby, mouth agape and his sticks and gloves airborne, is revealing.

It captured the raw elation of the moment, seconds after Crosby's bad-angle shot in overtime found the net behind U.S. goalie Ryan Miller to give Canada the gold medal for the second time in three Olympic Games.

That goal by Crosby on Vancouver ice was an emotionally charged adrenaline shot felt by hockey fans across the country, an instant in time that will some day be remembered as fondly by Canadians as Paul Henderson's historic goal in the 1972 Summit Series or Mario Lemieux's magical marker in the 1987 Canada Cup.

But for those people involved, the photo of Crosby beginning his celebration doesn't tell the whole story.

It doesn't get to the root emotion of the moment, that for a fraction of a second there was a collective exhalation by Team Canada. Fact is, the initial reaction to winning the Olympic gold medal wasn't jubilation. It was relief.

"A great sense of relief when (Crosby) scored, moreso than anything else," Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, the man responsible for putting together the 2010 version of Team Canada, told QMI Agency. "For our players, it's difficult. They're human and have great expectations of themselves but it's tough to overcome that pressure that comes with it. It's hard to relax and get comfortable. The more times you do it the better but it's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play in the Olympics in your home country. None of us had been there before. They really had to overcome some jitters.

"It was just a tremendous sense of relief to win, more than any other sensation."

That feeling filtered down to the players on the bench, too.

"There was so much pressure on us, so when Sidney scored in overtime, first there was a feeling of relief, then exhilaration," Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash told QMI's Mike Zeisberger. "It's hard to explain. It's something you'll never forget. It was such a memorable experience. I was just so honoured to be part of it."

Emotional highs and lows aside, Crosby's golden goal meant one thing for Team Canada. Mission accomplished.

And for that, the Canadian men's Olympic hockey squad is QMI Agency's team of the year for 2010, as voted on by sports editors from across the chain. The gold medal-winning women's Olympic hockey team, Kevin Martin's curling foursome, figure skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Laval's Vanier Cup champion football team were also considered for the award.

"Being a part of it, it's a tremendous honour," Yzerman said. "A lot of the other athletes did extremely well at the Olympics so everyone involved should be really proud of that accomplishment."

* * * * *

The pressure was ramped up almost from the moment Steve Yzerman was named executive director of the Canadian team in late 2008, 16 months before the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympics.

Canada was coming off an embarrassing seventh-place finish at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, a result that would be unacceptable with the Games back in Canada for the first time since 1988. Anything less than gold, in fact, would not be tolerated by a nation devoted to the game.

Yzerman knew, and accepted, that the expectations of a country to build a team that could win gold was on him.

"Yeah, I think so," he said with a chuckle. "We had our own expectations and obviously they were to win a gold medal as well. I don't think it was ever really a big deal, the pressure, until we actually got to Vancouver.

"You know you're there for one reason, the last event on the last day, and the expectation is to win a gold so it's tough to really enjoy it throughout."

When the team was unveiled by Yzerman six weeks before the Games began, the debate over who should have made it -- and who shouldn't have -- began in earnest.

High-scoring defenceman Mike Green was left off the roster, as was Jay Bouwmeester. Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and young hot-shot Steven Stamkos, three players on the Lightning roster when Yzerman took over as GM last off-season, didn't get the call. Shane Doan and Ryan Smyth, a pair of Captain Canada's, wouldn't wear the red and white in Vancouver.

Instead, Yzerman injected some new blood into Team Canada, selecting the likes of Drew Doughty, Mike Richards and Corey Perry over more familiar names. The Internet was abuzz, media outlets weighed in on Yzerman's choices, and regular hockey fans heatedly discussed whether this version of Team Canada could come through.

"No, I think no matter what direction I went, or players we chose, there was going to be some reaction, there had to be," Yzerman said. "We have a tremendous talent pool and a lot of depth so if I'd made a couple of other decisions, you'd get a strong reaction one way or the other. I wasn't caught off guard by that."

When the Games got under way in Vancouver, Canada opened with a 8-0 win over Norway then edged Switzerland 3-2. A 5-1 loss to the U.S. in the final round-robin game gave the nay-sayers a voice but three straight playoff wins, including a 7-3 romp over the Russians, sent Canada to the final against the U.S.

Canada was just 25 seconds away from glory when Zach Parise scored to tie it, causing momentary dismay from B.C. to Newfoundland, but that goal merely delayed the celebration and set the stage for Crosby's moment of glory.

"I remember thinking when the US scored in the final minute to tie the gold medal game:, 'Uh oh,'" Jarome Iginla told Zeisberger. "But we hung in there and kept at it and came out ahead in the end. It's definitely one of the highlights of my career. We really knew the entire country was behind us. It was so special, playing on home soil, the way people backed us, it all played into it. It was just so satisfying to successfully finish the job we had gone there to do."


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