The U.S. women’s ice hockey team thought they had finally broken the spirits of their Canadian counterparts Wednesday in the finals of the 2014 Olympic games, but the only things broken were American hearts. Canada scored twice in the final three-and-a-half minutes of regulation, then won the game in overtime to nail down their fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal.
With no scoring in the first period of a very physical contest, Team U.S.A drew first blood in the second as Megan Duggan slipped one past Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados into the corner of the net. The went to the second intermission with the United States leading 1-0.
It took just a little over two minutes for the Americans to increase that lead to 2-0 in the third period when Hillary Knight scored on a power-play goal at the 2:01 mark. The stars seemed to be aligning for the U.S. in their quest for their first Olympic gold since 1998 in Nagano. Team U.S.A. played stout defense from then on, protecting the lead and counting down the minutes to the awards ceremony to accept their prize.
The Canadian team had other plans. With 3:26 to go, Brianne Jenner knocked in a shot that glanced off of a U.S. defender’s knee and suddenly it was 2-1, and it was time for Canada to pull their goalie and make one last mad dash to tie the game. It almost backfired. With Szabados off of the ice, American forward Kelly Stack cleared a pass from the right-side boards in her own end. The puck covered almost three-quarters of the ice as it slid toward the empty net and a potential game-clinching goal. It hit the post. Team Canada had new life, and did not waste the opportunity.
Only 55 seconds remained when Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin, who plays college ice hockey for Boston University, punched in a shot from in front of the net past American goalie Jessie Vetter, and through the broken hearts of the U.S. women’s ice hockey team. Tied now 2-2, the game was not over, but the toll it took on Team U.S.A was unquestionable. The game that the U.S. had controlled through most of the final two periods was suddenly in doubt, and momentum was sitting on the Canadian side of the border when the two teams went to the locker room to prepare for sudden-death overtime.
In the extra period the difference-maker was a cross-checking penalty on Knight, which she committed on a breakaway by Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser. It was a controversial call. The Canadians wanted a penalty shot, while the American’s claimed that there was no contact. The officials gave Knight two minutes in the penalty box, and that advantage was all Team Canada needed. It took only 39 seconds before Poulin ended it with her second goal of the game.
The heartbreak of a 3-2 loss is familiar to the U.S. Women’s ice hockey team, as they lost by the same score to this same Canadian team in preliminary play on February 12. The heartbreak of losing in the gold medal game to Canada is familiar too. The American women have lost in the finals three times since their gold in Nagano, and each time it has been to Canada. The U.S./Canada rivalry isn’t over yet for the Sochi Games. The respective men’s teams will meet on Friday for the right to play in the gold medal game on Sunday against Sweden or Finland.
By Chuck Podhaisky