Rarely has the old tag line from ABC’s Wide World of Sports ever seemed more apropos then 8 minutes and 10 seconds into overtime of the women’s gold medal hockey game between Canada and USA yesterday afternoon. “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” was demonstrated in dramatic fashion when Quebec City native Marie-Philip Poulin scored an OT power play goal to clinch a sudden and dramatic 3-2 victory in a game pitting the two dominant world powers and hated rivals in women’s hockey. The Canadians came pouring over the boards in celebratory hysteria while the Americans slumped over, tears wiping on sweaters, looking every bit as they had just had their collective hearts torn from their chests. Such is the greatness of Olympic competition and victory joy, and such is the overbearing pain that is felt by the 2nd place finishers who had spent the last 4 years of their lives preparing for this very moment.
This was a contest where the combatants left everything they had, and then some, on the ice. The Americans had built a 2-0 lead on goals by Meghan Duggan in the second period and Alex Carpenter two minutes into the third, and had managed to protect it for more than 14 minutes. As the clock was counting down you could feel the Olympic strangle-hold the Canadians have had on the sport starting to slip away from them (the U.S. women claimed the first gold in the sport in ’98 but the Canadians have taken it home the last three Olympics), but with only 3:26 left in the game, Canada’s Brianne Jenner made her way through the U.S. defense corp and fired a shot headed wide of the U.S. net. But the puck deflected off the leg of U.S. defenseman Kacey Bellamy and past the American’s Wisconsin-born goaltender Jessica Vetter, cutting the score to 2-1.
With a minute and 30 seconds left in the third period, the Canadians pulled their goalie, and just a few moments later an American shot from the far blue line slid down the ice as if in slow motion, heading for the wide open Canadian net and a gold medal for the U.S. But the puck hit the goal post and died. It was beginning to feel as if the hockey Gods were on the side of the Northerners, and 30 seconds later when the Canadians put their second goal past Vetter the momentum had done a complete 180. The score was tied with only 55 seconds left on the clock and we were heading to overtime.
Unlike the preliminary rounds where a five minute OT is followed by a shootout, the medal games follow the same script as NHL playoff games and go full 20-minute periods until one team scores. And at the 68:10 mark of the game in overtime…..it was over for the Americans.
All championship game losses are no doubt hard to swallow, but this pill must seem like it was the size of a grapefruit. To only be minutes from victory and then to lose in the fashion they did, it will no doubt be incredibly tough to get over. And unlike their male counterparts who win or lose today, will return to a life of multimillion dollar homes, private jets and celebrity status, these warriors will return only to their schools or their “normal life” jobs. Here’s hoping that some day they can appreciate the silver, knowing that for one day in February 2014 they were second best in the world at something – and how many of us can say that?