It will go down as one of the greatest hockey games ever played and the United States will only be able to look on it with regret. Canada scored two late third-period goals to erase a 2-0 deficit and claim their fourth straight gold medal at the Olympics.
After opening the third period with a huge power-play goal off the stick of Alex Carpenter, Team USA was 3:26 away from gold before Brianne Jenner’s shot towards the net took a fortuitous bounce off of U.S. defenseman Kacey Bellamy’s knee and over Jessie Vetter. That made it a 2-1 game and gave Canada all the life it would need.
With netminder Shannon Szabados pulled, the U.S. nearly got a big break when a linesman got in the way of a Canadian defenseman trying to keep the puck in. That led to a shot all the way down the ice with the puck rolling. All the way it skidded and just as it looked like it would have been 3-1, the puck was off the post and cleared away.
A game-tying goal by the fantastic Marie-Philip Poulin with just 55 seconds remaining tied things up and sent the game to a 20-minute, four-on-four overtime.
And just like that, the U.S. went from 3:26 from a golden celebration to the fight of their lives.
In overtime, the pace was frenetic, with the U.S. getting a few early chances and even getting a piece of the post on a great chance. Then a penalty to Canada gave the U.S. an amazing opportunity with the rare overtime power play.
It lasted five seconds. After winning the draw, Jocelyne Lamoureux slapped at the gloved hand of Szabados with her stick. Maybe it’s let go a lot in regulation, but when on the power play in overtime, giving the referee any opening for a makeup call is one they will take.
The U.S. again was inches from potentially winning the game when Hilary Knight’s pass was inches from the stick of Anne Schleper. She couldn’t get the handle and perhaps the greatest women’s hockey player of all time, Hayley Wickenheiser, had the puck and the game on her stick.
Knight charged and chased Wickenheiser down. Somehow, Wickenheiser fell, though replays showed Knight did not get much of her if any. Another penalty and if that was a penalty, it probably should have been a penalty shot.
A power play to Canada and the momentum of overtime shifted. The puck found Poulin and perhaps Wickenheiser’s heir apparent did not miss. 3-2. Canada’s gold.
Though this game was so entertaining and such a great event for women’s hockey and the game overall, the American women will be left with an empty feeling. They controlled play for the vast majority of the third despite Canada really pouring on the pressure for the first 40 minutes. It was a game they had in control for the first time all day.
A bad bounce on the first goal and a lapse defensively (and an unfortunate redirection off of Vetter’s stick to the absolute wrong person) on the second pulled the rug right out from under them. Team USA had a good response in overtime, but they were on their heels from that first Canadian goal on it seemed.
The looks on their faces as they received the silver medals was heartbreaking regardless of your national affiliation. For some of those girls, this is the end. There’s no next time. For others, it will be fuel for a fire.
For USA Hockey, after such growth in its women’s hockey membership numbers and the fact that they’ve won five of the last seven women’s World Championships, it’s a question of what more can they do?
That’s the trouble with the Olympics. It comes down to one game. All of that build-up comes down to one game and for Team USA, it almost boils down to about 11 minutes.
When 2018 rolls around, and it sounds like women’s hockey has nothing to fear about its being in the Olympics, it will be 20 years since the U.S. claimed the first Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey history. Despite all of the momentum generated and all of the improving numbers and the quality of women’s hockey in this country, that’s a long time between golds in a two-team race.
Though the U.S. women have closed out five women’s world championships in their last seven tries, the Olympics is when the lights are shining brightest on this sport. It is also four years of build up to that moment. Unlike the men’s teams, everything these women do is geared towards one thing, winning gold at the Olympics.
What stings most is that this may be the sweet spot in USA Hockey’s women’s hockey development. Their best are up there with Canada’s best and perhaps even ahead of a team that was getting older. That’s going to sink in when they get back to the USA Hockey offices and it’s going to hurt quite a bit. This was among its greatest opportunities lost.
The Olympics doesn’t define where the American women’s program is as a whole. It’s as healthy as ever. But this one is going to sting. This could have been the moment where they took that next step and showed to the world how far they’ve come and how good they are. Instead, it’s another almost and for them, almost is never enough.
Other notes from today’s game….
- You cannot fault the effort in this game one bit. Team USA played hard the whole way and at times looked to be the far better team, but this Canada squad was very good. You knew they wouldn’t go away and obviously they didn’t. The U.S. had a great response in overtime, but those opportunities didn’t fall. It’s amazing how many close calls there were in this game.
- Jessie Vetter made a lot of big-time saves in this game. She finished with 28 stops in nearly 70 minutes between the pipes. Canada had some serious pressure at different points in the game.
- There have been a lot of complaints about the officiating at the end and I think some of the concerns are valid, but the U.S. is unlikely to pin it on the overtime penalties for why they lost. The calls were questionable, no doubt, but when looking at this game, you have to take stock of the whole thing. The U.S. women were 3:26 from gold and didn’t close out a team they knew would not quit. Had they done that, there would be no discussion. Also, if that long shot went into the empty net, it very easily could have flipped the script in terms of complaints. The U.S. is going to feel bad about how that ended, but there were too many other chances to ice this game that went unfinished.
- Hilary Knight had a spectacular game. She had no choice when chasing down Wickenheiser and it’s hard to see what else she could have done there on what ended up being a penalty. Her pass to Alex Carpenter for the second U.S. goal was a thing of beauty and her speed and strength was a factor all game long.
- Gigi Marvin was a warrior in that game. She was blocking shots and playing sound D all game long. She helped Team USA’s power play keep things together in regulation and was a huge factor in the U.S. zone.
- Meghan Duggan was just all-out in that game. She scored the first U.S. goal and just was relentless in battles along the boards. She took her game to an all-new level, I thought. This one has to wear on her as the team’s captain, but she was doing a great job throughout that game.
- The U.S. will have to look to the future and it is bright. Kendall Coyne, Amanda Kessel, Brianna Decker, Alex Carpenter, Megan Bozek and the like all should be back in 2018 leading the charge. For veterans like Kacey Bellamy, Jessie Vetter, Gigi Marvin and Julie Chu, who knows how much longer they have left in the women’s program. And if this is the end for some of them, they represented their country incredibly well throughout their careers and have paved a great path for a lot of these younger girls to follow.
This one is going to hurt, but they will have another chance and four years to build up to it. The women’s game is as strong as ever in North America and the way these two countries push each other makes for more great battles ahead, though this one may never be topped.
Stay tuned for complete coverage of tomorrow’s men’s semifinal between USA and Canada.