Played at its highest level, hockey is primarily a visual sport. Players are taught, from a young age, to keep their heads up so they can see exactly what's happening on the ice at any given moment. But it can also rely on the aural senses too. Hearing, listening, communicating on the ice, detecting the nuances between having a teammate call for the puck and having a teammate demand the puck.
With the 2010 men's Winter Olympic hockey final a little more than seven minutes into the sudden-death overtime period, Canada's Jarome Iginla detected such a shift in tone from Sidney Crosby, his line-mate of the moment. Iginla was in the corner to goaltender Ryan Miller's right, facing pressure from Team USA's Ryan Suter, when Crosby called him by his nickname. Iggy, Crosby said, loud enough for Iginla to know this was one of those moments.
"There's a different way we talk to each other on the ice, as players when you're open," explained Iginla. "And some people yell like that all the time even when they're not open and it throws you off.
"Talking is very important, especially with me. I actually work better with hearing. Then I know where a guy is. I want people talking to me as much as they can. Some people don't talk and I find them harder to play with. I want a play-by-play. If they can see and I can't see, I want them to let me know. "Talking makes the game so much easier - to me anyway. He [Crosby]talks great. That's really the reason (the goal was scored). If he didn't say anything to me, I probably wouldn't have passed it to him. I wouldn't have been able to make the play because I wouldn't have seen him. It happened that quick and my back was to him. But as soon as I hear him, I knew he was there. Then you know. Literally, if he hadn't said anything, I probably would have missed that pass."
But he didn't. And so, it played out like this:
THE SET UP
7:29 to 7:32
Crosby accepts a head-manning pass from Scott Niedermayer on the right wing, and then in full stride, crosses into the middle of the ice as he approaches the U.S. zone. It is an easy to defend one-on-four at that moment and Crosby, after unsuccessfully trying to split the defence corps of Brian Rafalski and Ryan Suter, instead directs the puck towards U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller. A harmless looking play at that moment, seemingly going nowhere, and coming just after a scoring chance at the Canadian end.
NIEDERMAYER: "The whole shift, there had been signs that something might happen. I had double clutched a pass and it ended up on the stick of Joe Pavelski. They had a shot and (Roberto) Luongo made the save. That was another knot in my stomach. It was the type of shift where things were close and happening all over the ice."
LUONGO: "I remember making a save and I was going to go freeze it, but one of our guys called for it. So I slid it back to him, and we ended up going into the other zone."
CROSBY: "I had open ice and with it being four on four, there was a little more time and space so I just tried to attack with speed."
Miller sees his four teammates, all in perfect position to defend against the Canadian rush, and steers the puck into the corner towards his right. Crosby's forward momentum is so great that he is actually the first man on the puck as it squibs into the corner. He retrieves it, and Jarome Iginla circles in behind the U.S. defenders to support the puck and give him a passing option.
CROSBY: "I just tried to keep my feet moving. They had both stood me up, so I was just try to get on the puck, in case it was laying free behind them."
With the puck on his backhand and facing the right boards, Crosby tries to carry it up the boards back to the point, but at a critical moment, it is lost in the skates of referee Bill McCreary and stops dead. Iginla is set up behind the goal line, on the boards, on the forehand, ready for anything. Defenceman Drew Doughty has come on the ice on a line change, replacing Shea Weber and is moving into position, at the right point, drawing attention from one of the two American forwards, Zach Parise.
DOUGHTY: "I was the off-side D (defenceman, furthest away from the puck) so I was kind of creeping in for a rebound. We were both out there. He (Niedermayer) was coming in for the rebound, too."
As the second U.S. forward Jamie Langenbrunner drifts out to the point to keep tabs on Niedermayer, thus taking away one possible option, Crosby - with just his right hand on his stick - stops on a dime, reverses his field and swipes at the loose puck in McCreary's skates. Crosby gets enough on it to push it in Iginla's general direction, just as Rafalski closes in on Crosby.
CROSBY: "I didn't want to have a turnover, with both of us standing still and against the boards in that area, so I was trying to make sure the puck got deep."
IGINLA: "Going into the corner, I'm thinking, 'he has the puck, anything's possible.' Then Sid turns up and I go into the corner to support him. He bumps it down to me. Now I'm thinking, 'when it comes down to me, will I be able to make a move or not?' But it (the puck) is staying on the wall and I hear him yelling for it, and I'm thinking, 'oh geez, he must have the guy beat.'
Iginla, a right-handed shot, is facing up the ice. Crosby's desperation pass has landed on his forehand and he hears Crosby call for the puck. Feeling pressure from Suter right behind him, Iginla has a decision to make. As soon as he pokes the puck to Iginla, Crosby comes off the boards, leaving Rafalski behind.
IGINLA: "So I'm thinking, 'get it to him quick because he's yelling that he's open.' Which he ended up being open, but I can't really see that right away. I remember thinking,'Instead of making a move, just get off the wall and put it out there for him.' So it was kind of a give-and-go, a little bit of a broken play."
CROSBY: "We (he and Rafalski) were pretty much next to one another and I saw that there was space to get to the net. I yelled to Jarome. He won his battle and made a nice play to get it to me while falling."
Crosby, by now, has spun off Rafalski and has a clear lane to the net. Normally, there might be a third forward on the ice to help defend the play, but this is four-on-four overtime and both U.S. forwards have positioned themselves high in the zone to cover the defencemen. Rafalski hasn't been able to stop his forward momentum - as he's going in one direction, Crosby is already headed in the other, towards the goal.
SUTER: "You play man-on-man in that situation. If the puck would have kept going up the boards, we could still be playing. All I remember, because I was looking back at the puck, was how it hit the ref's skate. I was watching the whole thing happen because I was on Iginla coming up the boards ahead of Crosby and Rafalski. I remember the puck hitting the ref's skate and the next thing I know, Crosby's going to the net."
Iginla feels Suter bearing down on him and realizes there's only a split second to decide what to do. Head down, listening rather than seeing, he makes a pass in Crosby's direction. Seeing Crosby has a step on him, Rafalski shifts his attention towards Iginla, the puck carrier, and tries to help Suter with coverage. Both defenders are now closing in on Iginla, one from the front, one from the back. Rafalski desperately puts his stick out in what he anticipates will be Iginla's passing lane, but just fails to get his blade on the puck.
NIEDERMAYER: "I sensed an opportunity at the very least, the way Sid came out of the left corner with the puck. My winger had swung away so I saw free ice in front of me. I was hoping for a pass or to be in position for a rebound. I never looked at Sid. I knew he was moving in, but I was looking at the net."
SUTER: "What I remember is, I'm going up the boards with Iginla, I didn't even know who it was. Rafalski's going up the boards with Crosby. Crosby has the puck, but it hits the ref's skates, so the puck stops. Rafalski keeps going because he thinks Crosby is still going up the wall. Crosby just hits the brakes and goes back and went in and took a shot."
As Iginla falls to the ice, his pass gets through the tiny gap in the coverage and lands on Crosby's stick.
It is a classic give-and-go move, conducted in tight quarters, in the blink of an eye.
With no one between him and the net, Crosby briefly looks down for the puck and senses immediately that he's running out of room. He effortlessly transfers the puck from backhand to forehand and in one motion, whips a wrist shot towards the goal.
CROSBY: "I didn't think about it. Really, I'm not even sure I looked at the net - and if I did, it was a glance. I knew the area I was in on the ice and didn't want to pass up a shot in that area knowing somebody could get to me - or Ryan Miller would possibly have the angle. That's why I shot."
SUTER: "After the game, I remember Ryan Miller saying that he thought the puck was bouncing, and he'd catch (Crosby) off guard so he was going to throw a poke check, but ...
But Miller, a little back in his net, and anticipating that Crosby is going to take another stride, doesn't have the time. He drops down to both knees, into his butterfly. As he does so, he opens his legs just enough for the puck to squirt through. Crosby jumps, arms up in celebration, and leaps into the boards. The Canadian bench empties in celebration.
IGINLA: "I got hit into the corner. I fell as I was making the pass. So I'm lying on the ice and I didn't see it go in. I just saw him jumping around. The crowd - obviously, you hear it. You think, 'this is it and you can't believe it.' This is actually it. This is what you dream of as a kid - to be part of an overtime game and have it go the right way. Then it's like peewees - you throw your gloves up in the air. Obviously, there was as much riding on this as any game I've ever played in - as far as the U.S. coming back (to tie the game in the final minute of regulation), a lot of people watching. They were high stakes. For it go the right way, it was all the emotions - thrilled, relief. It was awesome."
DOUGHTY: "Luckily, Ryan Miller didn't kick that out and made it go past both of us (defencemen). Otherwise they would have had a breakaway .... Sid shot that goal five-hole and I was the first one to him. I remember him looking me in the eyes and just yelling. Immediately the whole crowd was going crazy - and even still talking about it now, a chill goes through my body. It was almost like I was in shock when it went in. I couldn't believe we had finally won."
LUONGO: "All I remember really, is seeing the twine bulge and the rest is just blacked out. A very slow skate [down to the other end to join celebrating teammates] I was looking above the whole time, and there was like a million things that went through my head. All great things and a moment, obviously, I'll never forget.
Miller: "I am through talking about this."
With files from Allan Maki, Matthew Sekeres, Sean Gordon, Roy MacGregor and David Shoalts