Without American Patrick Kane, the unforgettable gold-medal game of the Vancouver Olympics never would have gone to overtime.
Late in regulation, Kane zoomed back with a poke check and stopped a stunned Crosby from scoring on a breakaway. Just over 2 minutes later, Kane sent a slap shot that captain Jamie Lagenbrunner deflected and Zach Parise directed into the net with 24.4 seconds remaining to force overtime.
“I was thinking get my (rear) back as fast as I can and right at the end just got his stick up,” Kane said of ruining Crosby then. “That's probably the fastest I've ever backchecked in my life.”
The play, Kane's two goals Friday against Finland that helped get the U.S. into the finals, and the fact the speedy Chicago Blackhawks winger is just 21 years old tell the story of the future of U.S hockey — a bright future, despite Sunday's 3-2 loss to Canada.
To win, Canada withstood a remarkable and determined effort from a U.S. team that wasn't supposed to medal in Vancouver, much less roll through the tournament unbeaten before losing in the first overtime gold-medal game since NHL players joined the Olympics in 1998.
On this Vancouver roster, 19 of the 23 Americans are younger than 30 years old. That includes 29-year-old Ryan Miller, who is headed back to the Buffalo Sabres as the tournament MVP.
“It certainly doesn't feel good right now, but (look at) where we came from August when people were making fun of how many Johnsons and Ryans and everything else we had,” U.S. forward Chris Drury said. “No one knew our names. People know our names now.”
They sure know Miller's. He allowed eight goals in six games against the best players in the world, impressing denied scorers from Switzerland to Canada and back.
“We have every component to win,” Miller said, meaning Sunday and beyond.
After Crosby's winning goal went through his legs, Miller stayed on his knees for a few seconds and then toppled forward onto the ice mask-first for a long, sad moment.
A few minutes later Drury, the 33-year-old captain, skated over to his goalie and hugged him. Miller hugged Drury back.
“He's pretty down,” Drury said. “But there's no chance we're here without the way he played the whole tournament. It's heartbreaking to lose in OT of a gold-medal game, but he should be proud of everything he did the last two weeks.”
Parise, who now returns to the New Jersey Devils, was the third-highest scorer in Vancouver with eight points in the six games of the tournament. He is 25.
Defenseman Jack Johnson of the Los Angeles Kings was one of the few speedy Americans to throw himself at the Canadians repeatedly on Sunday, even into his own goal post a couple of times to prevent scores. He played more than 23 minutes, and he's just 23. Fellow defenseman Erik Johnson played almost 20 minutes. He is just a few months older than Kane.
Ryan Kesler, who scored the Americans' first goal Sunday in the second period to get them back in the game, is 25. Same with fellow forwards Joe Pavelski, David Backes and Dustin Brown. Defensemen Bobby Ryan and Phil Kessel are just 22.
There is one potential snag to this U.S. youth movement between now and Sochi: the NHL still hasn't decided if it will allow its players to participate in a fifth consecutive Olympics. Commissioner Gary Bettman is concerned about the two-week disruption to his league. Bettman also doesn't like that the IOC and the International Ice Hockey Federation, not the NHL, control the league's most valuable commodity throughout the tournament — its players.
“I'm hopeful NHL players will be involved. I think it's good for our game,” Hockey Canada executive director Steve Yzerman, a Hall of Famer who played for Detroit from 1983-2006, said Sunday. “But I do understand that there are issues that the NHL has concerned with.”
As for the U.S. and its skilled youth, not every American was embracing the future in the moments after gold turned to silver with a flick of Crosby's wrist.
Crosby's goal left Parise bent over staring into ice. Then, near tears, he buried his face in his gloves while a national party raged around him.
“It means we've got some pretty good players here,” Parise said of what the Vancouver performance means for Sochi. “But maybe we'll think about that a little later.
“Right now it's … not right now.”