U.S. women lose hockey gold

Canada's 3-2 win ends an American dream

Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City 2002

February 22, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

WEST VALLEY CITY - The can't-miss gold medal didn't slip from the grasp of the U.S. women's hockey team last night, it was yanked away by a determined Canadian team that wanted it more.

The final score was 3-2, but it was not an indicator of the lopsided play.

The Canadians outhustled and outplayed the Americans, who looked flat from the first faceoff until the final buzzer, and never really threatened to repeat their gold medal of 1998. Even the capacity American crowd didn't get into the game until the final three minutes of play.

As the winners swarmed their goalie, Kim Saint-Pierre, the losers, who had their 35-game winning streak stopped, leaned on their sticks at their blue line and watched the celebration that was supposed to be theirs.

They were stoic until it was time to receive their silver medals. Then several players, including Nagano gold-medal winners A.J. Mleczko and Karyn Bye, began openly sobbing.

"They played their hearts out. They came flying at us," said American Julie Chu. "You have to lose a game. Today, we just didn't have it. Today, they were the better team."

The Canadians played short-handed for 26 minutes, normally a situation that the U.S. squad feasts on. But their penalty killers were able to smother all but one of the shots.

"Actually, we got too many power plays," said U.S. coach Ben Smith. "It's almost like we started having too much pressure to score."

The Canadians drew strength from that.

"We knew they had a really, really good power play, so we worked on [penalty killing]," Saint-Pierre said. "When we shut them down on their first power play, I knew we could do it."

In the first period, the Canadians showed they weren't afraid of the Americans, disrupting their play at every opportunity with fierce forechecking. Despite the fact that the Americans had 11 shots on goal, the Canadians made one of their nine count just 1:45 into play.

Forward Cherie Piper swept around behind the goal and attempted to jam it past goalie Sara DeCosta. Caroline Ouellette took a rebound off DeCosta's stick and poked it past her glove.

The quick strike was just an indicator of things to come. The Canadians played aggressively on offense and defense, while the Americans continued their tournament pattern of listless play in the opening period, with lazy passing and indecisive shots.

The pace picked up in the second period, and the American women showed brief flashes of cohesiveness.

No more so than 1:59 into the action, when Katie King took a pass from Tara Mounsey and slammed a slap shot that went off and over the stick of St. Pierre.

The tie would hold up for just over two minutes. Canada pulled ahead on a goal by Hayley Wickenheiser over DeCosta's glove hand.

It appeared the Americans retied the score on an optical illusion play that had Smith shaking his head. Standing just beyond the crease, Angela Ruggiero clanged a shot off the inside of the post and it ricocheted out.

With just one second remaining in the period, the Canadians increased their lead to 3-1, with each team having a player in the penalty box. Jayna Hefford gloved a high pass and broke in on DeCosta, slamming home her own rebound after the goalie's initial save.

"That was huge," said Canada's Becky Kellar. "It was the backbreaker."

The Americans scored their final goal on a power play at 16:27 of the final period. Bye took a feed from defensemen Tara Mounsey and backhanded the puck between Saint-Pierre's skate and the post.

"We came in as favorites in Nagano and lost. We came in tonight as underdogs and won," said forward Lori Dupuis. "Earlier, we'd put together 20 minutes here and 20 minutes there. Tonight we put together 60 minutes of hockey."

The two teams have met 49 times in international play, with Canada holding a 29-21 edge. Twenty-five of the games have been decided by a single goal, and six went to overtime.

In the game to decide the bronze medal earlier in the day, Sweden shocked favored Finland, 2-1, behind the stellar goaltending of 15-year-old Kim Martin and the scoring of Evelina Samuelsson.

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