Words probably can’t do justice to the absolute euphoria that Team USA’s Women’s Hockey Team experienced on Thursday afternoon in the gold medal game of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. A game that couldn’t be decided in 60 minutes or even 80 minutes went to a shootout and still could not be decided in the regulation five rounds, where it was tied at one each in goals off the penalty shots. In the 6th round Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson managed to get Canada’s Shannon Szabados down and gave USA their second penalty shot goal. At that point for the Americans it was all on their goaltender, Maddie Rooney.
Many of her teammates couldn’t speak highly enough of her. The word “poised” was used by some to describe her calm demeanor in the net.
“And it all came down to Maddie Rooney and she had a gold medal winning performance,” said Hilary Knight.
“We have such an amazing group and it didn’t matter if you were a veteran and three-time Olympian or if you’re a rookie,” shared Gigi Marvin who couldn’t stop smiling. “I mean holy cow, Maddie Rooney? Unbelievable in the net. It really doesn’t matter. We had so much faith and trust in her.”
Rooney, who admits that she’s afraid of snakes and doesn’t like the dark, is not afraid of the pressure of blocking such an important shot.
“I’ve been told that, that one of my strong suits is being calm,” Rooney offered quietly. “I think it’s just really important for my position to stay calm and have a short-term memory, if things don’t go well, and have trust in the teammates to bounce back.”
She commented that all her teammates were supportive going into the shootout. So when it came down to Canada’s opportunity in the 6th round, she felt confident that she could block the shot from Meghan Agosta. And block it she did. For Team USA it was cheers and hugs and happiness. For Team Canada it was disappointment, heartache and tears.
In almost a switch of that final game in Sochi four years ago in which the United States was winning 2-0 for so long and then ultimately lost in overtime, this time it was Canada who went into the third period winning 2-1 in PyeongChang only to have it come down to the shootout and see things go against them. However, there was one thing that was eerily similar to the Sochi games.
“It was wild. It seems like so long ago, but when we got that penalty, I was thinking ‘Oh my gosh, this is the start of a living nightmare for us at the Olympics,’” Knight described. “Kendall [Coyne] went out there killed great, Dex [Brianna Decker] went out there. I mean everyone was rolling. And we all had our different responsibilities and jobs and big moments and people made those little plays that turned out to be big plays.”
Throughout the game there was an intensity on both sides, but more restrained than perhaps their first meeting of the games. There were few instances of pushing and shoving after the whistles as opposed to the first game. And though Canada seemed to control things in the beginning it was the Americans who scored first while on the power play with just 1:25 left in the first.
“There was no doubt in anyone’s mind. It was just a matter of how and when and what an ending,” Marvin said.
The second period saw the Canadians score exactly two minutes in. They would get the lead at 6:55 of the period. It looked like they might get their third while on the power play. Sidney Morin was whistled for an illegal hit and Canada was strong on the power play. Fortunately for the United States, Canada was whistled for a crease violation, which simply stopped play and forced a face off down in Canada’s end.
With 6:21 remaining in the third period, Monique Lamoureux-Morando got the tying goal that would keep the Americans in it through the remainder of regulation and the entire 20-minute overtime. As Knight mentioned, while on the four on four overtime, Megan Keller was called for an illegal hit with 2:35 left on the clock. It was during this penalty kill time that it was clear that the confidence of Team USA was immense. They were not going to let history repeat itself.
All through the game the chants of “Go Canada Go” and “USA, USA” filled the arena in a deafening beat against each other. Each chant trying to infuse their team with more energy, feeling every bit a part of what was unfolding on the ice. Willing their energy reserves to imbue their team. There were oohs and ahs as pucks missed the goal or as goalies made incredible saves. From those cheering on the United States, a tremendous cheer erupted as that final puck was blocked.
After twenty years, the gold medal is coming back to the United States with the women who worked hard to be recognized by USA Hockey and who have worked so hard on and off the ice to grow a sport about which they have so much passion. It was earned through hours and hours of work and training and practice. It was aided by family, friends, trainers, coaches, and countless others. And it will be remembered by millions.