GANGNEUNG, South Korea—They had been here before, in their minds and in their dreams, on frozen ponds and frigid arenas and after long practices, and it always ended the same way. Afterward, the Americans would almost all use the same words: “no doubts.” Well, of course there were doubts, doubts about whether they would win. You don’t get to the sixth shot of a shootout after 80 minutes of an Olympic gold-medal hockey game against your archrival if you had it in the bag the whole time. But that’s not what they meant. They meant they had no doubts.
It took more than 80 minutes to get here; it took four years. Maddie Rooney had risen from high school kid to Olympic goalie. Forward Amanda Kessel had recovered from a concussion so severe that she couldn’t go outside.
JocelyneLamoureux-Davidson and her husband, Brent, had delayed trying to start a family. But here she was, ready to show the Canadians her baby.
What a move this was. One of her old coaches had dubbed it “Oops, I Did It Again,” after the Britney Spears song. Jocelyne and her twin sister, Monique Lamoureux-Morando, said afterward, “We’ve butchered it plenty of times.” But Jocelyne got it down this time.
She faked a right-handed wrist shot, pulled the puck to her left, then pulled it back to the right—three moves in one, really, and the extraordinary Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados seemed to fall for all three. After Lamoureux-Davidson easily tucked the puck into the open bottom-right corner of the net, she pumped her fist, and the Americans celebrated because they led the shootout 3–2….
And still it was not over. Rooney, just 5-foot-4 and 20 years old, stood in front of the U.S. goal. She had one more shot to stop.
Four years earlier, Rooney had sat in her house in Andover, Minn., and watched Canada erase a 2–0 deficit with four minutes remaining and stun the U.S. in overtime. Two weeks earlier, when she boarded a plane for Korea, Rooney says, “It hit me:” the sheer size and meaning of the Olympics.
But minutes earlier, as the shootout was beginning, Rooney had actually smiled. U.S. captain Meghan Duggan noticed. She says she thought, “Maddie’s smiling. We’re good.”
As her teammates took turns in the shootout, Rooney looked down, listened to the crowd, and only looked up at the last second. But Rooney was calm when it was the Canadians’ turn to shoot at her. Her teammates marveled at her poise. Her roommate in PyeongChang, 30-year-old Gigi Marvin, said: “I mean: Holy cow, Maddie Rooney!” Duggan said, “A 20-year-old goaltender, you know?”
Rooney said: “Pressure is power.”
On the Canadians’ final try, Rooney suspected that Canada’s Meghan Agosta would try to poke the puck through her legs. She stopped the shot. The U.S. bench erupted.
Rooney noticed the puck sitting on the ice and gently nudged it away from the goal, just to make sure, like she was making sure she had her keys in her pocket before she locked the door.
They’re good; they’re great; they’re gold medalists. This game may have been the most anticipated event of these Olympics, and somehow, it actually surpassed the hype.
The Americans looked like the better team, but not by much, and when the two best teams in the world face each other, being a little better is not enough. The Canadians have an almost mystical quality about them. It doesn’t matter to them if the Americans are faster or even if the Americans have a lead, because the Americans are still Americans, and Canadians beat Americans in hockey.
The U.S. scored first; Canada answered. Canada scored next, and there were the Americans, in their locker room with one period left, trailing 2–1. If ever there was a time for doubt, this was it.
They were unfazed though, and they played like it. It took almost 14 minutes to even the score, on a Lamoureux-Morando breakaway, but during all 14 of those minutes, they kept their poise. They did not rush passes or fire desperate shots.
During the intermission before overtime, they were sure. And when that 20-minute overtime period, contested with four players against four, ended without a goal, and they headed to a shootout, they were joking around on the bench.
The Canadians said afterward that a shootout is no way to decide a gold medal. A day earlier, the U.S. men’s coach, Tony Granato, had stood in the same spot and voiced the same sentiment after his team was eliminated in a shootout by the Czech Republic. They were all correct. Shootouts are not really hockey. But the rules are the same for everybody.
And the truth is that, when overtime ended, a shootout seemed like a gift for the Canadians. The Americans had dominated overtime. They didn’t score, but going from five-on-five to four-on-four made a huge difference. Maybe it was the U.S. speed in the open ice, or maybe the Canadians got tired first. But another period of overtime would have favored the Americans.
Nobody really deserved to lose, but the dark beauty of a gold-medal game is that somebody does. U.S. coach Robb Stauber said afterward, “This is a very classic example of how hard it should be.”
The Americans know. They had suffered in 2014, and in 2010. It was amazing how quickly the burden shifted in one Korean afternoon. The Canadians will carry the burden now.
Afterward Canadian forward Natalie Spooner said, “Once you get the feeling of winning a gold medal, you want it again. You chase for that high every day of your life. Everybody is going to remember this moment and how much it sucks.”
This is how much it sucked: The Canadians could not even trudge into their locker room and throw equipment or have a cry to themselves because this is hockey and this is the Olympics, and that means there is a handshake line coming and a medal ceremony before that. They had to wait by their bench.
The Americans poured onto the ice. The Canadians watched. The Americans waved to the fans chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” The Canadians waited.
Lamoureux-Davidson skated over to pick up a U.S. flag, and not just any U.S. flag. This had been given to her by a U.S. senator from her native North Dakota. She could not even remember which senator, but she knew that flag had been wrapped and folded in her stall at the team’s training center in Tampa since September. She wrapped the flag around her shoulders and skated toward her teammates.
Canadian forward Blayre Turnbull put her head down. She had seen enough.
The Canadians can spend the next four years the way the Americans spent the last four. They can think about how to recapture the throne, and how to beat Maddie Rooney. Oh, how maddening that must be, to lose to a 20-year-old goalie who is scared of snakes and, truth be told, a bit scared of the dark.
“I’m kind of a wimp,” Rooney says.
There are two fantastic hockey teams that don’t believe her.
The U.S. team had been through more than they could have envisioned. They threatened to skip world championships unless they were paid a fair wage. They replayed the Sochi loss in their minds a thousand times.
But think about this: The U.S. had lost in each of the last four Olympics—three times to the Canadians in the gold-medal game, and each was more excruciating than the last. The prospect of another failure loomed over them every time they skated here. And with all that in mind, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson tried a move called Oops, I Did It Again. That’s how you laugh away a jinx. That’s what you do when you have no doubts.
To the victor go the chuckles, and when somebody told Rooney that her Wikipedia entry had been changed so her job was now “U.S. Secretary of Defense” she laughed and said, “That’s hilarious!”
When Rooney talked to the media after the game, wearing all her sweat-drenched equipment, she said that the gold medal felt heavy. Earlier, Canada’s Jocelyne Larocque had taken her silver medal off as soon as it was placed around her neck.
The Americans and Canadians had both climbed to this moment for four years, separate physically but side-by-side spiritually, and now here they were. The teams were as even as teams can be, right until they weren’t anymore. Now the raw truth of the moment hit them both: When you finish second at the Olympic Games, you can’t stop looking up. And when you finish first, you never have to look down.