VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The clock hadn't even ticked to :00 by the time the first pair of Canadian gloves hurtled into the air. The 15 players on the bench monitored the scoreboard clock to see when time officially ran out, because you couldn't hear the horn at Canada Hockey Place. You couldn't hear anything but a nation exult, rejoice at realizing a dream: a hockey gold medal right before their eyes.
"It feels unbelievable," Canada goalie ShannonSzabados said after shutting out the U.S. team, 2-0. "I would be just as happy right now if we had won the game 9-8."
Of course, there was no way she was letting in eight goals Thursday night, not with the hot hand she brought to the game's biggest stage. Time after time, she thwarted the U.S.'s high shots, flashing her glove, which seemed to act as a rubber magnet. Nothing was getting by her on this night.
"She played great tonight," said MoniqueLamoureux, who fired four shots on goal. "It just wasn't our night tonight. We just couldn't finish."
While Team Canada swarmed their 23-year-old goalie, the American women looked on from the other side of the rink, watching the celebration they all woke up believing would be theirs. "We woke up this morning, hoping and thinking we would finish with a gold medal," says U.S. defenseman AngelaRuggiero. "And my hats go off to Canada. You get one shot at it and I think that's the beauty of the Olympics. We put our best foot forward, but just didn't come out on top today."
Though it was a tough pill to swallow for the U.S., this gold-medal game will go down as one of the best women's hockey contests ever played. A high tempo and physical matchup, it put two evenly matched teams on display and -- for 60 minutes -- people forgot about the 18-0 drubbings, the questions about parity that have dominated coverage of the sport for these last two weeks, and simply watched.
"It's bittersweet," U.S. captain NatalieDarwitz says. "We showcased women's hockey today, but we were on the short end of the stick ... We lost the gold-medal game. We're not smiling. We're not jumping up and down. It is what it is. We have a silver on our necks, and right now, we can't do anything about it. Canada's got gold, and we got silver, and all you can do is wait four more years to get another crack."
The frustration on Team USA was evident as every chance they had was stonewalled by Szabados and a structured Canadian defense. Twice in the game, the U.S. had a two-man advantage and couldn't capitalize because of a tremendous penalty kill anchored by its veterans, BeckyKellar, JaynaHefford and HayleyWickenheiser. But when Kellar and Hefford took uncharacteristically careless penalties -- back-to-back delay of game calls in the beginning of the second period -- Canada had to lean on its younger players to step up to the challenge. CatherineWard, SarahVaillancourt and CheriePiper helped kill off a 1:38 two-man advantage against the tournament's best power play.
That has come to be expected for Canada, the dynastic team that has won its third straight Olympic gold medal. Though the names and faces may be new, the hockey instincts remain the same. Just hours before the game, Canada women's hockey icon CassieCampbell-Pascall mused about this team: "[The younger players] are 20 times better than I was at that age. I'd be worried about our game if [they] weren't better than I was because that says we're doing the wrong things. I'm 100 percent comfortable saying Marie-PhilipPoulin, at the age of 18, is 20 times better than I was at that age."
From Campbell-Pascall's mouth to Poulin's hands, it seemed, as the forward netted Canada's only goals of the night, both in the first period. It's funny how good defense fuels an offense. On the first shift after Canada had killed off the first 5-on-3 in the first period, the momentum of the game, even up to that point, swung hard in Canada's favor. JenniferBotterill, coming down the wing, centered a pass to Poulin in the left circle, and the young forward, in her first Olympic Games, one-timed a shot high, beating JessieVetter on her glove side. Even with the early lead, Canada wouldn't relent, wouldn't be allowed to be caught off guard in their building, in front of their people. Three minutes later, Poulin found the net again. It turned out just one would be enough with Szabados in net; the goalie stopped 28 shots.
In the quiet moments after the game, after the celebration, the ceremonies and the media interviews, a handful of players returned to the ice at Canada Hockey Place. With beers, champagne and cigars in hand, they celebrated a hard-fought win, four years in the making, the way hockey players do-on a sheet of ice, all to themselves.