Before those laurels, though, Sakic and his teammates weathered a tense third period. Canada played cautiously, keeping three men back on defense, and though the U.S. regularly gained the Canada zone, it rarely mustered a dangerous shot. The simultaneous chants of U-S-A! and Ca-na-da! were almost indecipherable. It was only when Iginla scored with less than four minutes left that the Canadian roar prevailed.
In the top tier of the arena Wayne Gretzky embraced his assistant, Kevin Lowe, and pumped both fists. He was celebrating what he would call "the coast-to-coast thrill" of a nation that is usually fragmented by its hockey allegiances the way other countries are splintered by religion. On the ice the players skated out the final golden minutes with relief. There was Fleury, from tiny Oxbow (pop. 1,163), Saskatchewan, who said that he'd wanted to win for Canada since watching Paul Henderson score the goal that beat the Soviets in 1972. Fleury was four years old then, "but I remember that game clearly," he says. "I guess I was the brightest kid from parts unknown."
There was Yzerman, from Cranbrook, B.C., who played although his right knee was so swollen that the day after the game, he went on the NHL's injured list. There was Shanahan, from Mimico, Ont., who played despite a broken right thumb so painful that he had to shake with his left hand on the postgame receiving line.
There was rugged defenseman Adam Foote, from Toronto, who whooped after the game, "Everybody should get the day off in Canada tomorrow. This is a national holiday!"
There was also a final highlight after Iginla's goal, and that was Sakic's beating Richter with 1:20 left. When the cheering for that goal subsided, you could make out the murmurs of a song beginning at one end of the arena. With each word more spectators joined in, and by the time the clock ran out, the crowd was swaying, the lumps were high in the players' throats and the final, thunderous refrain of "O Canada, we stand on guard for thee" resounded through the building.