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 — WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah - 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 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 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."

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 Americans having 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 goal 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 U.S. men's squad, still attempting to rehabilitate its furniture-busting image from the 1998 games, showed up to cheer the women's team, as did other American medallists.

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 tied the score on an optical illusion play that had coach Ben 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.

"That was huge." said Canadian Becky Kellar. "It was the backbreaker."

The Americans returned 14 skaters from the gold-medal squad, Canada 10.

The two teams have met 48 times in international play, with Canada holding a 27-21 edge. Twenty-four of the games were 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.

Martin turned back 32 shots, during a game where the momentum belonged to Sweden in the first period, swung to Finland in the second and came back to the winner at the end.

Sweden almost didn't send a women's team along with its vaunted men's squad to the Winter Games. The men will return home empty-handed after losing to Belarus on Wednesday in the semifinal round, while the women's game was televised live back home.

Samuelsson, who hadn't scored in the tournament, was responsible for both goals. The first came at 5:08 of the first period, with both teams at equal strength. Samuelsson struck again at 17:15 on a power play.

Hanne Sikio scored Finland's goal at 11:35 of the second.

As Swedish players celebrated and threw their flowers, stunned Finnish players remained motionless on the ice and bench.

"I can't believe it's true, but it's true." said Samuelsson.

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