The U.S. women's Olympic ice hockey team suffered a devastating 3-2 overtime loss to archrival Canada in the gold medal match at the Sochi Winter Games Thursday night. The Americans and Canadians took time to reflect on the instant classic match at separate news conferences Friday.
There is no doubt the women's ice hockey gold medal match here will long live in the memories of both teams, the fans and media who attended, and those who watched the game on television around the world.
For the Canadians, it was a stunning comeback from a 2-0 third-period deficit to tie the game in the final minute of regulation. They did it by pulling their goalie out of the net for an extra attacker to get the equalizer, and then won it with a power play goal in overtime shortly before midnight Thursday to make the final 3-2.
For the U.S., which won the first women's Olympic ice hockey tournament in Nagano in 1998 but saw Canada take the titles at the last three Winter Games, the gold medal seemed to be in hand.
With the Canadian net empty and the U.S. holding a 2-1 lead, American Kelli Stack was able to hit the puck down the length of the ice toward what appeared to be a goal that would seal the win. But it needed to be just centimeters to the right, and struck the left post. Thirty seconds later, Canada netted the tying goal.
Canadian defenseman (defender) Lauriane Rougeau said she maintained confidence.
"I knew we could come back. I was on the bench and screaming my head off. You have to have good body language to keep believing in your teammates and that's what happened," she said. "When the puck hit the post, I turned around and looked at [fellow-defender Meaghan] Mikkelson and told her 'this is a sign from God that we're supposed to win tonight,' and that's what happened. I'm just so glad that we did."
Thirty-one-year-old U.S. veteran Julie Chu, the first Asian-American on the U.S. team who competed in her fourth Olympics in Sochi, said even after losing the lead she and her teammates believed they could win.
"Even though they started to get a momentum shift at the end, when we came out in OT [overtime], I'm proud of how we came out," she said. "We came out flying and there was a lot of pressure, a lot of pucks [shot] on net. Maybe in that first minute we thought we were going to score. And so we never lost the belief that we could win a gold medal."
Chu learned later Friday that she was voted by fellow members of the entire Team USA to be the flag bearer for her country at Sunday's Closing Ceremony.
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U.S. team captain Meghan Duggan said it is difficult to have to settle for the silver medal.
"Obviously we're competitors and, you know, to come up a bit short it doesn't feel good. We said early, you know, that we didn't train as hard as we could for second place," she added.
U.S. coach Katey Stone said the Americans have had an outpouring of support after the team's loss, including, as they found out, from President Barack Obama.
"We have tons of family that's taken this journey with us over to Sochi and throughout the entire season, and so we have a great, soft place to land. There's no question about that," she said. "On another level, I understand that the president was trying to call this morning, which I think, I know how much of a sports fan he is. We haven't had a chance to talk yet, but appreciate that effort."
Veteran star forward Haley Wickenheiser, 35, has played for Canada's team in every Olympics when women's ice hockey has been contested, winning a silver medal in 1998 in Nagano, and now four gold medals since then. She said this was something special.
"Obviously we're pretty excited where we ended up and very happy to be in this position and have a gold medal around our neck," she said. "I think that for anybody that watched the game, it was a game for the ages the way it finished up and turned in our favor."
U.S. coach Katey Stone said even though Canada and the U.S. have dominated women's ice hockey on the international level, the gap between them and other countries is shrinking, and that trend will continue.
"The last Olympics and the previous one, everybody spoke about the goal differential and how embarrassing it was. It's not that way. If you talk to any of our players, and I imagine team Canada, they knew that they couldn't take anyone for granted," she said. "That mindset right there is already a change, that there are no holidays [easy games] in women's hockey, specifically at the international level."
In the bronze medal game, also played Thursday, Switzerland, edged Sweden, 4-3.