Bruce Arthur: U.S. beats Canada in shootout for women’s hockey gold. And they deserved it
Americans have won their first gold medal since 1998. That it came down to a shootout was a shame, but say this: they were the better team.
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PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA—For a long time the Canadian bench was a frieze, carved and motionless, as though time had stopped. Forward Megan Acosta leaned on the boards, facing away from the ice; defender Jocelyne Larocque was on one knee, frozen. Behind them the Americans were crying and hugging and letting out a lifetime of pent-up joy. They had won the Olympic gold medal, finally. It was all spilling out.
It was their turn. Canada had won the previous four gold medals at the Olympics, a generation’s worth of joy for them, and heartbreak for their only real rivals. Sochi was a hammer. This game, like that one, went to overtime. This one, unlike that one, went to a shootout.
And in the sixth round Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson turned Canada’s brilliant Shannon Szabados inside out with a rattlesnake shake, and Canada came up empty. And the United States, which had been the better team, finally, finally won.
“Means everything,” said forward Amanda Kessel, gold medal around her neck. “Just a lifetime of work, and I’m so proud of my teammates.”
For Canada it was, as captain Marie-Philip Poulin put it, heartbreak. Since 1998 it had always been the Americans who were left hollowed out, their faces on the verge of coming apart.
This time, it was Larocque who removed her silver medal as soon as it was placed around her neck. This time it was Szabados, whose face crumbled when she was asked about the injuries she had been hiding, about how she had played three games before these Olympics.
When asked why it was so hard she said, trembling, “Because it was hard not to be there for the girls all year. And then, coming down the wire like this, and not walk away with a gold medal.”
She made 40 saves, in her third gold medal game. She could barely speak.
They all cracked open in one way or another, because this was the end of four years of building every day to this exact moment. They didn’t think it should have ended in a shootout and they were right, but in truth the shootout was a reprieve — the Americans got better as the game went on, broke down Canada’s brilliant systemic work, tied the game with six minutes left with a goal from Monique Lamoureux-Morando on a bad Canadian line change, and dominated overtime. Poulin drew a penalty with 1:35 left in OT: that power play was Canada’s best chance. The U.S. killed it dead.
Which left the Canadians as the ones who had to hold one another’s heads as they hugged and shook; who had to stand in silence as the Americans celebrated with flags, as the carpets were rolled onto the ice, as the medals came out.
As they waited Poulin skated down to Szabados at one end and embraced her, and went down the line doing the same to every Canadian player, one by one. Some shuddered as they spoke later; some couldn’t raise their eyes. Natalie Spooner, her eyes glistening as she tried to hold it inside, said, “back to work.”
And the Americans were left to contemplate the culmination of their hockey lives. A year ago they threatened to strike at the world championships unless they got equal pay and treatment with the men from USA Hockey, and they won, and they made golden keys that they hung around their necks that read, FEARLESS.
They got bracelets from the USOC that read, Every Moment Matters. They dragged themselves back from Sochi, where they blew a two-goal lead in the final four minutes. And they were, after those four years, the better team.
“I mean, I think just . . . we’ve mentioned this whole time, our opponent is never the other team we’re facing,” said forward Gigi Marvin, who underwent serious hip surgery after Sochi. “It’s always the doubt. And I think the biggest thing is just the doubt and the fear. We were able to push everything away, up 1-0, then give up two goals, then tie it, then we’re in a shootout. I mean, how many opportunities do you have to just mentally cave? How many? And we didn’t. We just crushed the fear and crushed the doubt and just trusted in what was to come.”
They won, on as pretty a golden goal as you’ll see. Kessel said she was so proud to be part of this team, “for all the little girls around the country.” Brianna Decker, who took a vicious elbow to the face from Poulin and called the red mark a “pretty good scar”, was asked what she looked forward to; she said, “Just to be able to share it with young girls around the country. They have something to look forward to.”
“There’s still a long ways to go, but I hope that we’ve inspired other people in their own industries to do the same thing,” said forward Hilary Knight, “and that we continue to grow for the next generation.”
I thought about the opening ceremony here a lifetime ago, and how two 21-year-old women’s hockey players — one from South Korea, one from the North — were given the Olympic torch and ran up those endless glowing stairs together, stride for stride. These young women, these older women, these nerveless kids — American goaltender Maddie Rooney, 20, said, “pressure is power” — are not so different from each other. They were all little girls who had older brothers who beat up on them like the Lamoureux twins, or who played on boys’ teams, or whose parents let them love whatever they wanted to love, because they loved hockey.
And so they put their lives and careers on hold to chase these dreams, and to be either the ones whose hearts filled with joy when they won these games, or the ones who had to keep from breaking when they lost. Canadian coach Laura Schuler was on the Canadian team that lost in final at the Nagano in 1998. She was asked how long it took to get over it.
“I don’t think it ever goes away,” she said.