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The jokes were just too easy.

News arrived that in the hours following Canada's great gold-medal victory over the United States, the stick belonging to overtime hero Sidney Crosby had gone missing.

Perhaps it would be found with Alexander Ovechkin, who had also gone missing at the Winter Olympics.

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There is a different measure of the two superstars of the game post-Olympics from pre-Olympics. It is impossible at the moment to say how it will all play out.

Going into the Winter Games, Ovechkin was clearly the darling of the sport. He was conceded to be the world's best player, but also the game's best and most attractive personality: dynamic on the ice, engaging off. Children - particularly North American children - adored the player they know simply as Ovie.

The media hung on his every statement, even if at times the grammar and syntax failed him. What mattered far more was that he tried, that he was funny and friendly and even, much to the delight of those covering him, at times controversial. It was Ovechkin, after all, who was first among the NHL stars to say the league could take a hike if it believed it could prevent him and other NHLers from partaking in the 2014 Winter Games, which are to be held for the first time ever in his native Russia.

Yet the running joke in Vancouver was: "If Ovie is insisting he will show up at the 2014 Games no matter what, perhaps he should first have shown up at the 2010 Games."

It was a terrible Olympics for Alexander The Great. He looked lost and ineffective on the ice but for one stunning shoulder-to-shoulder check on the European superstar he had already supplanted, Jaromir Jagr of the Czech Republic. Ovechkin made next to no impression with his stick - two goals - as the Russians stumbled their way to early elimination.

The Russians went into the Games considered the most talented team. No surprise there as Russians usually go in with the most talent and are soon found to have the least chemistry. Ovechkin was supposed to change all that. He was supposed to provide the Russian team with the first driven leader that the Russians have had since Pavel Bure took them to the gold-medal final in Nagano 12 years earlier.

It didn't happen. The team remained talented but unfocused, with a surly Ovechkin seemingly wishing he were anywhere else but Vancouver. He constantly brushed off the media, perhaps alienating those who in no small part had created the charming Ovie image so many children (and grown children) had embraced.

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The Olympics are a much different stage than the NHL. It suits some who are not stars in other hockey circles, does not suit some who are stars in the highest circles. The best forwards this tournament were Slovakia's Pavol Demitra and little Patrick Kane of the United States.

The best defenceman was Brian Rafalski of the United States. The best individual Olympics performance in the four tournaments that have involved NHL players might well be the Nagano performance by the Czech Republic's Jiri Slegr, a rarely noted journeyman in the NHL.

The best team in these Olympics was Canada. Unlike 2002, when fluke and bad Swedish karma helped Canada to gold, there was no disputing this time that the best two teams reached the final, and Canada won by the grace of Sidney Crosby's overtime goal.

It was not a pretty goal - an official's skate, a missed defensive assignment, an unimpressive shot and a flubbed save pretty well sum it up - but it will stand, all the same, with Paul Henderson's goal in the '72 Summit Series and Mario Lemieux's magnificent marker in the 1987 Canada Cup.

What is unknowable at the moment is what that singular goal will mean in the overall measure of Crosby and Ovechkin.

Soon, that one goal will be all fans recall of Crosby's Olympics debut. It will also never be forgotten, no matter what glories come of his already remarkable career.

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And yet, had Sidney Crosby not scored in overtime, if another Canadian player had delivered the gold, it would have been written that Sidney Crosby, slightly less than Alexander Ovechkin, was also missing from the 2010 Winter Games.

While he had sealed the shootout win over spunky Switzerland and while he had played wonderfully against little Norway and Germany, Crosby had mysteriously started to fade quickly against Russia, was a curious non-factor against Slovakia and, right up until the 7:40 mark of overtime against the United States last Sunday, could well have been described as "invisible" himself - just like Alexander Ovechkin.

But then a puck squirted out from a corner; instantly it was in the net, though the shooter himself says he never even saw it go in, and at that very moment Sidney Cosby himself turned gold.

One solid gold, one newly tarnished.

The Battle of the Superstars moves on.

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About the Author

Roy MacGregor was born in the small village of Whitney, Ont., in 1948. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2002, he worked for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean's magazine (three separate times), the Toronto Star and The Canadian Magazine. More

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