In an interview with Pierre McGuire before today’s gold medal game against Canada, Team USA captain Meghan Duggan said, “It’s just giving everything for sixty minutes.”
Everything: speed, skill, hockey sense, and no small degree of brute force.
Absolutely nobody was surprised that the Olympic Women’s Gold Medal game started out with a bang. Just two minutes into gameplay, Canadian defenseman Tara Watchorn spent her first (but not last) two minutes in the penalty box for body checking. A mere four minutes later, her teammate Meaghan Mikkelson did time for roughing, followed by two minutes for cross checking for USA’s Hilary Knight.
In other words, “playing nice” was not on today’s agenda.
Not that it ever really is, with these two teams. Words like “revenge,” “hatred,” and “rivalry,” get thrown a lot between the U.S. and Canada’s women’s teams — arguably more so than they do between the men’s, perhaps because this game is ‘The Game’, for women’s hockey, and these teams are ‘The Teams’.
Every Olympic series is the Stadium Series, is the miracle on ice.
Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados was tested early and often in the first period, but kept the period scoreless with a composure that was hard-earned through this Olympic series. Szabados has been the backbone of Team Canada’s formidable defense in every game that she has played in, and while Team USA’s Jessie Vetter made some truly spectacular saves and absolutely played an enormous part in the overall control the USA showed throughout the matchup, Szabados’ performance is what kept Canada in the race when they needed to be kept.
The game is never over until it’s over, and a medal isn’t yours, until it’s around your neck.
The second period belonged to a few of Vetter’s more miraculous saves and of course to Duggan and Jocelyne Lamoureux, whose tight stick work gave Team USA the first goal of the game. Lamoureux dropped the puck near the face-off and Duggan snapped it high and hard over Szabados’ left shoulder.
It was just one goal, and there was plenty of hockey left to play, but these are always low-scoring match-ups, and in the wake of the goal it was clear that Team USA planned to use it.
This iteration of the USA Olympic women’s hockey team has been one of the most highly-touted, certainly one of the most visible. They’re young, they’re funny. They’re underdogs, kind of, insofar as you can possibly be an underdog when you’ve medalled in all but one of your Olympic endeavors.
“We put our armor on before the game. We were ready,” Gigi Marvin said in an interview during intermission.
They certainly looked like it through the first half of third period, when they came out strong and kept the puck in Canada’s zone. They scored early in the last twenty minutes, a sharp power play goal from Alex Carpenter off assists from Knight and Kelli Stack.
They could feel it, probably, that medal around their necks. Five minutes left. Four-thirty. Four. Three.
But then —
Brianne Jenner ripped Team USA’s lead in half with just over three minutes left to go in the period, thanks to a series of tough play from Mikkelson and Jocelyne Larocque, and with less than a minute left in the game, Marie-Philip Poulin scored the equalizer.
We’re back in Vancouver, 2010.
Three minutes ago, it had felt a little bit like fate. In four Olympic tournaments, Canada has won three gold medals. The United States has won one. This is likely Julie Chu’s last Olympics; her team’s motto may have been, “Team first,” but it’s hard not to understand why the motto came with a tagline: Do it for Julie. It was that kind of home-grown heart that carried the U.S. team through the first two and a half periods.
The problem with heart is that it can only carry you so far.
The OT that followed the last heartbreaking minutes of the third period is hard to describe. What had started out as a tough, physical game rapidly spiraled into a desperate physical game, for both teams. It would be impossible to number the near-misses and almost-had-its. By the end of the game, it was hard to even keep track of the penalties–we’d seen five-on-four, then five-on-three, then four-on-three, and finally got all the way down to a three-on-three that made it a little hard, as a spectator, to breathe.
It’s the kind of game you want to see in a tournament like this, a game where both teams show their best and their worst, where any player at any point could have the game on her stick. Games like this are why people love hockey.
It sucks to lose games like this.
Ultimately, it was Poulin who scored the golden goal, Poulin who jammed it where she needed it to go. It’s hard to be surprised, since Poulin is Poulin and every time she does something amazing it’s just the most recent time that she’s done something amazing. This game was no exception–Team Canada fought hard for sixty minutes and then fought hard in OT. They earned the win. Team USA didn’t earn a loss, but that’s what they got. That’s hockey. Somebody has to take home silver.
Duggan promised us to leave everything out on the ice, and she did. They all did.
Gold or silver, they lived up to their promise.