VANCOUVER (AP) -- Sidney Crosby's overtime goal against the United States on Sunday brought Canada a desperately wanted Olympic gold has propelled him into the pantheon of the country's hockey greats: Wayne Gretzky, Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Gordie Howe and Mario Lemieux.
Crosby won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins eight months ago and to that he can now add Olympic gold -- all by the tender age of 22.
Crosby's career has been tracked in his homeland since he was in puberty, the son of former goaltender Troy Crosby, whose own career lasted only two seasons after he was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens.
After the match, Crosby raised his right hand and waved it almost sheepishly to respond to the deafening chants of his name. Then he looked down at the gold medal dangling from the pale blue ribbon around his neck.
"It's a pretty unbelievable thing," Crosby said. "You know what? Every kid dreams of that opportunity. Being in Canada, that's the opportunity of a lifetime. You dream of that a thousand times growing up. For it to come true is amazing."
The hero of a hockey-crazed nation pulled it from his chest and checked both sides, as if to confirm it was real.
"He's got a little destiny to him -- his entire career, throughout minor hockey, junior hockey, NHL," Hockey Canada executive director Steve Yzerman said after he scored 7:40 into overtime to beat the United States 3-2.
"So it's just another monumental moment in his career. And he's what, 22 still?" Yzerman said. "He's a special, special guy. Kind of like Gretzky."
After being denied from a breakaway late in regulation by a backcheck from winger Patrick Kane, Crosby chipped the puck off the stick of Brian Rafalski in the corner of the Americans' zone in overtime. Teammate Jarome Iginla got the puck, heard Crosby scream that he was free near the net and pushed the puck his way.
"Oh, he was screaming. He was yelling pretty urgently. There's different phases of yell," Iginla said, chuckling. "You can tell he had a step."
Crosby broke across the face of Ryan Miller and put the puck between the goalie's legs, setting off a wild celebration from Newfoundland to the Yukon.
Its epicenter was in the opposite corner of the ice, where Crosby threw his stick, threw off his gloves and then absorbed nearly every Canadian player in a mosh pit along the boards.
Miller stayed on both knees for a second while the puck was in the back of the net, then he collapsed forward mask down onto the ice.
Canada's gloves were all over the ice around Crosby, known as Sid the Kid.
"He's unbelievable. There's nothing that kid can't do or hasn't done already," said Canada forward Jonathan Toews, who scored Sunday's first goal. "We were saying after the third period that someone was going to be the hero, someone was going to find a way to do it for us, and it's no coincidence he was the guy.
"He's a tremendous leader. He's accomplished so much in his young career."
Crosby, goaltender Roberto Luongo and other Canadians said the longer intermission between regulation and overtime, instead of the brief breaks that had been the norm in the earlier Olympic rounds, allowed each player to get over the shock of Zach Parise tying the game with 24.4 seconds left in the third period.
During that break, Canada coach Mike Babcock whispered in Crosby's ear.
"He just said, 'Put the puck on net,"' Crosby recounted later. "So good advice."
It gave Canada the perfect ending to their Olympics, and gave further evidence the Next One is already here.
"It's just fitting, I think, that Sid would get it," Luongo said, near tears. "I couldn't think of anyone better."