'Sid the Kid' takes on ghosts of Canada's Olympic past
Team Canada is under the most scrutiny of perhaps any in Winter Games history
Shootouts and the Swiss have sunk Canada in recent Olympiads
Crosby's amazing shootout goal helped his team avoid a crushing loss
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- If he really is Sid the Kid, then he is also Destiny's Child.
Sidney Crosby might not have been born to greatness, but he certainly was ready for it. He is a marked man, one who wore a scarlet A on the front of his white Team Canada sweater on Thursday night. He was adjudged too callow four years ago to represent his country at the Olympics, but Crosby, an alternate captain, is now the centerpiece of a team that is under the most scrutiny of perhaps any in the history of the Olympic Winter Games.
There is no telling if that pressure will turn Team Canada into a diamond by the time this tournament is done or whether it will be broken into bite-sized pieces and chewed up by a nation that expects nothing less than a gold medal. After a 3-2 (RECAP) shootout win over Switzerland -- courtesy of goaltender Martin Brodeur and the slick stick of Crosby -- Canadian coach Mike Babcock said that in every tournament there is a moment of adversity that a team must survive in order to win.
This moment lasted, oh, 45 or so minutes, plus another few for a shootout during which a nation held its breath before Crosby's shot from the slot - low stick side - on magnificent Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller allowed it to exhale.
Team Canada didn't necessarily exorcise any demons, but it sure gave them an aerobic workout.
Some history should be interjected at this point of the discussion. There are two bogeymen in recent Canadian men's Olympic hockey history. They are, in order: the shootout and the Swiss. The shootout in a gnaw-to-the-nub Canada Hockey Place was the first for Canada since the 1998 semifinals in Nagano when a Gumby named Dominik Hasek outdueled Patrick Roy, stopping all five Canadian shooters -- none, curiously, being Wayne Gretzky. The previous shootout occurred four years before in the Lillehammer final when Peter Forsberg borrowed a move he had seen pulled by Kent Nilsson in a world championship and scored against goalie Corey Hirsch, a goal that was commemorated in Sweden by a postage stamp. This is the true meaning of Canada getting licked.
Then there are the Swiss, makers of chocolate and cheese and Olympic mischief. Four years ago to the day in Turin -- roll the Twilight Zone theme here -- Martin Gerber made 49 saves to shut out Team Canada, 2-0. When asked if he was having flashbacks at any point during this shootout win, defenseman Chris Pronger, now playing in his fourth Olympics, said, "No. This game we scored a couple of goals. We weren't down." Indeed Switzerland, playing a more confident game that it did in Turin, clawed back from a 2-0 deficit, tying the score with 10 seconds left in the second period when Pronger, international man of misery, was off high-sticking someone in the corner while a puck deflected off Ryan Getzlaf's skate in front of the net and past Brodeur.
Despite outshooting Switzerland 18-3 in the third period, Canada was going to have to settle for a two-point win -- these are three-point games in the round robin - or a one point thanks-for-coming loss. "I thought we were a much better team tonight (than four years ago)," Swiss coach Ralph Krueger said. "We played way more with the puck. We created way more opportunities than we did in Torino. I thought today's game was more special because being down 0-2, showing the character to come back against this kind of team in their own building."
So enter Crosby, who was watching the Nagano shootout at home in Nova Scotia, then truly a kid. Babcock later said he wasn't terribly scientific about choosing the three shooters. He took the three best on his roster in the NHL stats: Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Getzlaf. After Hiller snuffed them all, the coach pondered using Getzlaf, but afforded the luxury of going to the top of his three-man batting order, returned to Crosby. Crosby had deked the first time but noticed Hiller was not moving much. The second time through the order, he let one rip. One Brodeur save later, Crosby had written another chapter in his book of amazing. "He's obviously shown by taking his team to the Stanley Cup final and winning it last year what he's made of and all about," Pronger said. "That was just another exhibition of what he means to this team."