The Winter Olympics ended perfectly for those in North America.

The last official event was one of the greatest and most exciting Olympic ice hockey games ever played — when Canada won the gold medal it had to win with the 2-1 sudden-death victory over the Americans.

The U.S. won the most medals. Canada won the most gold medals.

The Russians, who went home embarrassed in hockey and failed to win a figure skating gold, went home to what we expect to be a rigorous training program or else (Siberia has a year-round winter climate) when it hosts in four years.

At the closing ceremony, the Canadians ran out just about every icon entertainer (from Nickelback to Neal Young to William Shatner) and every classic symbol of the country and found a way to work parts of "Oh Canada" (one of the best as national anthems) in almost all segments.

For a couple of hours during the hockey game Sunday, the Canadians and the Americans were heated rivalries. Then, most of the players went back to being together on National Hockey League teams. Hours later, a slew of Canadian entertainers and comedians appear to celebrate dual citizenship or certainly dual kinship in music and laughter.

In an Olympics that had highlights and memorable events by the bunches, the two men’s hockey games between the Canadians and the Americans offered the most excitement — hockey at its best.

Sunday’s gold medal contest couldn’t have been scripted more perfectly. The Americans scored a goal with 24.4 seconds left to force overtime. Then, arguably the best player in the world, Canada’s Sidney Crosby, beat one of the best goalies the world, America’s Ryan Miller, for the winning goal in sudden death.

Of all sports, hockey has the best sudden-death. The action is so fast, it draws you in because if you blink, you could miss the winning shot. Sometimes, you miss it if you don’t blink.

How much did this victory mean to Canada?

Just the announcement of the Canadian team drew four million viewers on Canadian television.

Tickets for the gold medal game were reportedly being scalped for $250,000 apiece.

I’ve never seen professional athletes sign their national anthem so boldly and so loudly as the Canadian team, relieved of as much pressure as any Olympic team after having to win four games in six days to get the gold medal.

Although NBC made an art form out of creating delayed and carefully edited drama for events that had been completed a half-day earlier, these Olympics had their share of truly memorable scenes that needed little edification.

Among my favorites:

• Canadian figure skater Joanne Rochette winning a bronze days after her mother died of a heart attack in Vancouver, raising her hands to the heavens as she completed her free skate.

• Snowboarder Shaun White performing a maneuver never done before and nailing his highest score on a "victory lap" routine that he didn’t have to do.

• The split-second craftiness of short-track skater Apolo Anton Ohno in a sport that one can go from first to no-finish in a blink.

• Figure skaters and teams who genuinely seemed to like each other even to the point that the American and Canadian ice dancers had the same coaches.

• Figure skater Kim Yu-Na, a rock star in her country, living up to the highest of expectations in winning the women’s gold medal with one of the best performances of all time.

• A new sense of dedication for skiier Bode Miller.

• Lindsey Vonn winning the women’s downhill, negotiating wicked twists and turns on a bad ankle.

• The  U.S. four-man bobsled team winning America’s first gold medal in the event in 62 years.

• The U.S. winning medals and gold medals in Nordic combined, a sport usually dominated by the Scandavians and Europeans. The U.S. winning big in Nordic combined (ski jumping and cross country skiing) is not exactly like Jamaica making an impact in bobsledding but it’s pretty close.

And these Olympics were peppered with another touch of irony: The normal reserved, low-key Canadians were as emotional and boisterous as Kentucky basketball fans and the normal high-strung Americans often transformed themselves into the reserved Canadian stereotype.

The move, "Alice in Wonderland," debuts this weekend. But for the last two weeks of Olympic competition, we’ve been through the looking glass.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or