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Hockey fans celebrate in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Square during Canada’s gold-medal Olympic men’s hockey win on Sunday, February 23, 2014. Canada beat Sweden 3-0 to win the gold medal. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Hockey fans celebrate in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Square during Canada’s gold-medal Olympic men’s hockey win on Sunday, February 23, 2014. Canada beat Sweden 3-0 to win the gold medal. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canada captures hockey gold with shutout win over Sweden Add to ...

After the gold medals had all been awarded, after the players had posed for the obligatory centre-ice photograph, Jonathan Toews accepted a Canadian flag from one of their supporters in the Bolshoy arena and circled the ice - briefly - waving it back and forth.

It was about as wild as the on-ice celebration ever got, the Canadians handling the aftermath of Sunday's gold medal-winning performance over Sweden with the same quiet efficiency they used to handle all six opponents they faced en route to defending the gold medal they won back in 2010 in Vancouver.

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Now that was a party - at home, in overtime, playing in front of a crowd that erupted when Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal. But Canada was so much in control of Sunday's 3-0 victory over Sweden that the final period involved mostly clock-watching. It was that methodical. It was that dominating.

"You had to do something to try and engage the fans a little bit there," Toews explained.

"I'm not really the flashy guy who does those sorts of things, but I was pretty excited out there."

History is rarely on the minds of players when they win something as significant as an Olympic gold medal. The experience is too fresh, too new and really just too much fun in the here-and-now to think about its significance or long-term impact.

Ultimately, each of the most recent men's hockey golds resonate in their own unique way.

In Salt Lake City (2002), a tournament that started badly but ended well, Canada ended a 50-year gold-medal drought in men's hockey. In Vancouver (2010), Canada overcame the intense pressure of competing in a hometown Olympics, and the palpable need to win at our game in our place.

In some ways, the effort in Sochi proved something different again - that Canadians could win overseas on the international-sized ice, playing against whatever opponent happened to come up next, playing any style they wanted to play. It might be the most remarkable of the three. Canada had possession of the puck for the entire tournament and wouldn't let anybody else have a turn.

The moment in history that the 2014 team may eventually reflect upon is this: Not since Canada won in Oslo, Norway, in 1952 - 62 years ago - has it won an Olympics outside of the Americas. So that is the singular achievement that makes this gold medal distinct from the last two. Rick Nash played in 2006, on the Canadian team that didn't win a gold, a loss that was blamed on their pure inability to play on the larger, international-sized ice.

"It's nice to win after such a depressing situation in Torino," Nash said, "everyone saying that [big ice] was the reason why. To come back here and win and prove to everyone that Canada can play on big ice is nice." The gold medal reinforces the roster decisions made by Canadian executive director Steve Yzerman and his team of NHL GMs in early January. It reinforces the lineup decisions that coach Mike Babcock and his staff made - which on Sunday involved getting Martin St. Louis back into the mix up front after he didn't get a single shift in the semi-final victory over the Americans.

The one line that Babcock left mostly intact was Toews between Jeff Carter and Patrick Marleau, two of the more controversial choices to make the team (ahead of Claude Giroux, James Neal and others). Canada's faith in them was rewarded.

Toews and Crosby were the heart-and-soul of this team and each scored a goal in Sunday's win, as did Chris Kunitz. All tournament long, Toews was adamant that the defence-first style adopted by Canada would be the winning style, and it was. Canada surrendered just three goals in six games in a defensive performance for the ages.

The tournament's MVP award went to a sentimental choice, Teemu Selanne of Finland, but any one of half-dozen Canadian players, from goaltender Carey Price to defencemen Drew Doughty and Shea Weber to Toews could have been selected. Toews simply knows how to win - and when to step it up. His résumé now includes two Olympic gold medals, two Stanley Cup championships, two world junior championships and one senior world title. His 26th birthday doesn't fall until April, in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. How much winning can one player do?

"These things just keep coming at you, and my answer is always the same," said Toews. "You get these opportunities and you just try and seize every one of them. It's a great team that we had in this tournament. You can see it developing, the chemistry in the locker room, the guys start to understand their roles. It's not easy for some guys. You look at guys like Roberto Luongo or Marty St. Louis, or even Sharpie (Patrick Sharp) tonight, guys that have made sacrifices to win the gold medal. You ask them, I don't think they care. It's an amazing feeling to be a part of a team like that, whether your role was big or small ... we're just an amazing team to watch, the way we work together."

It remains to be seen if the NHL will return to the Olympics for 2018. The logistics of going to South Korea - and the fact that it wants to relaunch the World Cup of hockey, perhaps as early as next year - means the odds are no better than 50-50 that it will happen.

Players will continue to demand best-on-best competition - and right now, Canada is the clear team to beat, with a young nucleus that was missing Steven Stamkos, one of the world's best players. Nathan MacKinnon is coming along and another generational player, Connor McDavid, is on the horizon. In short, despite all the strides made elsewhere, Canada remains the best at developing players and, more recently, is also the best at performing when the pressure ramps up.

Sweden, Russia and Finland all lost players to injuries and that undermined their performances. In Canada, someone is always ready to step in, without any appreciable difference in performance. The gap may be wider now than it's been since the 1970s between Canada and the rest of the world.

"At the end of the day, we played some good teams and some great teams," Toews said. "Every one, I feel, was close. Every one stepped up their games to try and beat us. Nothing was easy for us out there. I don't think we got any easy goals. We had to go out and earn a victory and earn a championship. It doesn't come for free."

Follow me on Twitter: @eduhatschek