As if designed by the hockey gods themselves, wunderkind Sidney Crosby scored the game-winning goal for Team Canada in the gold medal game over the United States Sunday in Vancouver.
It seemed appropriately fitting after the legendary Wayne Gretzy ushered in the 2010 Olympic Games by lighting the torch that Sid the Kid should close them by lighting the lamp in the 3-2 overtime thriller.
But while Canada rejoices and international hockey basks in what could have been its finest hour at these games, Nashville has every reason to celebrate as well.
That’s because Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, both young mainstays with the Predators, turned plenty of heads and made many admirers with their stellar play — not only in the gold-medal contest, throughout the tourney.
Suter, who seemed to be around the net every time the Americans scored a goal, led the USA with 137 minutes of ice team and a plus-9 rating. He did so while collecting 4 assists for an underdog team — the youngest at the Olympics — that surprisingly didn’t lose a game until Crosby’s shot beat tournament MVP Ryan Miller almost eight minutes into OT.
And despite Suter’s efforts, he was overshadowed in the end by Nashville teammate Shea Weber.
It was Weber who contributed two goals and four assists for the Canadians, including one blast that tore through the netting against the Germans.
It was Weber who spoke with quiet confidence after the Game 1 loss to the Americans, deflecting questions about pressure and overconfidence, saying we’d see a better effort the next time out — which we did.
It was Weber who shut down scoring threat Alexander Ovechkin with some physical play as Canada sent the Russians home.
“That's a pretty tall order and he did a great job," Predators coach Barry Trotz said of Weber's job on Ovechkin. "That's a real building block for his career."
And it was Weber adding another building block Sunday, being named to the 2010 Olympic all-star squad.
“That's the stuff you dream about as a kid, playing in those big situations against the best players in the world,” Weber told NHL.com after the win over Russia. “It's not an easy task by any means, but I thought we did a good job as a team.”
The best for Weber and Canada was yet to come, and more of that kid’s dream came true when Shea was given his gold medal. [Perhaps his dream also includes a Stanley Cup, and wouldn’t it be nice if it’s hoisted in Music City.]
According to Suter, he and Weber saw each other often in the Olympic Village, chatting about nothing in particular; texting occasionally, too. But if Weber was feeling any pressure, especially after losing to the Americans and surviving after Switzerland took Canada to a shootout, he wasn’t showing it.
Phil Coffey of NHL.com even compared the defenseman to something otherworldly on Sunday. “Weber might not leap buildings with a single bound, but his slapshots rip the twine — as one did against Germany. The Nashville blueliner's best work, however, came in a shutdown role against Russia when he blanked Alex Ovechkin.”
Weber was joined on the media-chosen 2010 Olympic men's hockey all-stars by Miller, Brian Rafalski and Zach Parise [USA], who scored the tying goal with just 25 seconds Sunday; Jonathan Toews of Canada and Pavol Demitra of Slovakia.
From an American collective, Canada survived one of the greatest games in Olympic history to cap the host country's record gold rush in Vancouver. And having beaten them once, the Americans knew all they needed to be was one shot better.
Suter himself had a golden opportunity when he tried to redirect a shot late in the second period that would have tied the game 2-2, but it went wide of the net. Instead, the young Predators defenseman was forced to join a line of dejected teammates — even one with silver medals draped around their necks — that could only stare down at the ice as “O, Canada” blared from the loudspeakers.
But his efforts, like Weber’s, did not go unnoticed by the Predators, NHL fans and the hockey world in general.
“No one knew our names. People know our names now,” said Chris Drury, one of three holdovers from the 2002 U.S. team that also lost to Canada in the gold-medal game.
Canada is now tied with Russia/United Team with eight hockey gold medals.
Asking the United States to beat favored Canada two times in eight days was a monumental undertaking, but amazingly was in their grasp. It also would have been its first gold medal outside the country — Americans' two gold medals came in 1960 in Squaw Valley, Calif., and in 1980 at Lake Placid, N.Y.