February 22nd, 2018 By Kathleen Mueller in Blogs.
U.S women’s hockey gold medal came in great Olympic game, made even greater statement
GANGNEUNG, South Korea – Wake up, America. There’s great news waiting for you. While you were sleeping, something magical happened in a hockey game at the Olympics. If you don’t have the time to watch the game on replay, at least watch the shootout. Look at the GIFs on social media. Do something. You just have to see this.
In one of the most satisfying moments in U.S. Olympic history, in one of the most spirited rivalries in all of sports, in the midst of a bitter 20-year gold-medal drought, the U.S. women’s hockey team defeated Canada 3-2 in a game that grew more enticing by the minute as it moved from regulation to overtime to a shootout that needed even more shots to settle things, with a U.S. goal for the ages, followed by a save to match.
It was fitting that the greatest game in U.S. women’s hockey history would take place on the 38th anniversary of the greatest game in U.S. men’s hockey history (and the best upset in any sport, ever), the 1980 Miracle on Ice victory over the Soviet Union in Lake Placid.
And it was the happy ending to an 11-month-long story that is as much about American culture as it is about sports. This is the team that boycotted its world championships last spring in an admirable and courageous pay equity battle with its national governing body. When USA Hockey’s leaders backed down, the women on this team came back in time for the worlds, which they won for the seventh time out of the last eight.
Think about it: Before the equal pay conversation began in Hollywood, or anywhere else around the country, this team had already fought its own battle, and won.
These girls next door in hockey skates rode into these Games with that landmark victory at their backs and one singular purpose in their minds: to finally win the Olympic gold medal that had eluded this team since the inaugural women’s hockey tournament at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
Every Olympic hockey tournament since, Canada won, beating the Americans in all but one of those gold-medal matches: 2002, 2006, 2010 and, finally 2014, that crushing loss in Sochi in which the Americans squandered a late lead and then lost in overtime.
There was no doubting the balance of this rivalry, but when they came to the Olympics, there was no balance at all. It was all Canada, with a generation of great U.S. players relegated to nothing but silver.
With that overture, even before the puck dropped Thursday and the first second ticked off the clock, there was an anticipation of nothing but greatness on the ice at the Gangneung Hockey Centre.
And then the game started, and it was better than anyone dreamed. Women’s hockey hasn’t caught on as a spectator sport in most parts of the United States, and perhaps it never will, but this was as riveting a game as will be played in any sport anywhere this year. That’s a guarantee.
The U.S. went ahead, 1-0, late in the first period. Canada stormed back to take a 2-1 lead in the second. The Americans tied it with little more than six minutes remaining in the game. Then came a free-wheeling overtime. Still tied. And then the shootout.
That shootout! WOW! Many despise the idea that a great game ends that way in hockey, and soccer too, but if there’s anything more dramatic in sports, please let me know.
The Americans were on their way after 20-year-old goalie Maddie Rooney’s initial save, although the Canadians tied it up, sending the shootout into more shootouts.
With these two teams, it might have gone on forever. But no. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, a 28-year-old veteran playing in her third Olympics, faked once, twice, three times before slipping the puck into the right side of the net past the sprawling, falling Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados.
Then, when Rooney stuffed Canada’s Meghan Agosta, giving the moving puck one last swipe out of harm’s way, it was over. A celebration 20 years in the making came in pieces: bodies diving, gloves flying, flags waving.
“The greatest day of all of our lives,” said U.S. captain Meghan Duggan.
“I’m so happy. Just take a picture of my face,” said 30-year-old veteran Gigi Marvin.
As is often the case with women’s sports, especially U.S. women’s national teams, there was more at play than just the game. As Marvin said, “My niece is going to wake up tomorrow and see this and it’s going to be more important for her than it is for me.”
With those cultural overtones as a backdrop, and the heart-stopping shootout as the punctuation mark, it all seemed so familiar. Who wasn’t taken back to 1999, to the Women’s World Cup, to that U.S. soccer team, to a touchstone moment for a generation of young girls who have now grown up to be women who will never forget what that meant to them?
And so it was fitting that one of those stars from 1999, Julie Foudy, now working here for ESPN, was in the press tribune, one eye on the ice, the other following a texting chain with a handful of her teammates throughout the game.
One of them was Brandi Chastain, who famously made the winning penalty kick in the Rose Bowl nearly 19 years ago.
“Brandi was getting emotional,” Foudy said. “She kept saying, ‘I can’t handle this. This is crazy.’”
Soon, there were so many texts that Foudy told them all she would get back to everyone later.
Another U.S. women’s team had become another wonderful story, and it was time for her to get to work.