The U.S. women’s hockey team owns Olympic gold for the first time in 20 years, after breaking Canada’s curious streak of success in a gripping final at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Their only previous win had arrived in the tournament’s first year, in 1998.
When the American women finally got their gold medals, they were placed on their necks by former player Angela Ruggiero — who was on the last U.S. Olympic team to win it all.
This game was far from simple — for the players on either side, and for their fans. Regulation time had ended with a 2-2 tie — and when 20-minute overtime didn’t process a sudden-death goal, a penalty shootout also ended in a 2-2 tie. That sent it to a sudden-death shootout to decide who would wear gold.
Canada had shot first in the first shootout — and to lead off the second round, the U.S. sent Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson skating out. Beginning from center ice, she utilized some artful stick handling to get the puck around and past Canada’s goalie. That left it to U.S. goalkeeper Maddie Rooney to make one last save — and finally, both the game and the U.S. gold drought were over, after three hours of intense and physical play and tension at the Gangneung Hockey Center.
Facing their archrival, the U.S. had scored in the first period, and Canada tied it early in the second — and went ahead minutes later. After two periods, the score was 2-1; the Americans tied it in the third, forcing overtime. And that brought on the penalty shots.
The U.S. hit home in their first turn at the penalty shot, as Gigi Marvin scored. But then Canada answered, with Meghan Agosta — a legend on the ice — getting the puck home. That made it 1-1. It went back and forth from there. U.S. forward Hilary Knight, who owns one of the hardest shots in women’s hockey — had the final U.S. shot in that first round of five, but she was unable to get the score to end it.
The game began at 11:10 ET, Wednesday night. We’ve been updating this post with news from Gangneung Hockey Center.
The Americans’ last attempt to break Canada’s grip on the gold medal had ended in heartbreak, in an overtime loss in Sochi. But this thrilling win should assist dispel that memory. It will give more energy to an exciting rivalry between the two most talented teams in the world.
The format of overtime calls for a 20-minute sudden-death period, with four-on-four play. But despite an intense exchange and good chances for both sides, it ended with no score, triggering a penalty shootout with five players from each team getting a chance to score a goal.
Midway through the overtime period, each team had already taken shots that could have ended the game, and their fans were growing more desperate to see their side win. They roared; they chanted over each other – anything that might push their team over the top.
With four players on the ice for each team, breakaways were frequent. And with more space opened up, the pace was even more frenetic than it had been in regulation.
U.S. defender had a breathtaking chance to end it with six minutes left, emerging in a breakaway to a chorus of “Ohhhh!” from the crowd. But her shot didn’t hit home, and the frenzy continued.
Shot after shot, the Americans sent the puck flying at the Canadian goal. And there to block it away was Szabados – high, low, straight, angled – she handled them all. Until, that is, the fateful shootout.
With less than two minutes remaining in overtime, U.S. defender Megan Keller was sent to the penalty box for an illegal hit, after an exchange in which she became entangled with a Canadian opponent as they crashed into the boards.
That put the Canadians into a 4-on-3 power play – sending thrills and chills (!) through the audience. Canada nearly capitalized, and their fans thought for one delicious moment that they had, after the puck centered in on goal – but then the puck skittered away, and the U.S. fans held their breath for another 25 seconds before time, and the power play benefit, disappeared.
The game’s first goal came on a laser shot by Hilary Knight. The U.S. brought the puck out from behind goal, and Knight worked her way up to the left faceoff circle before unleashing a low hard shot that glanced off a Canadian player and eluded Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados. It bounced inside off the far side of the netting and landed as the U.S. crowd erupted.
Canada’s Haley Irwin equalized the score minutes into the second period, putting away a breakaway that brought loud cheers from the Canadians’ fans.
Marie-Philip Poulin gave Canada the lead minutes later, scoring in a rush on the American goal. It was rapid redemption for Poulin, who had emerged from the penalty box moments earlier. The score came with 13:05 left in the second period.
Canada had a prime scoring chance in the third period, rushing toward Rooney in goal – but the puck was deflected away wide, and it was then sent out to U.S. forward Monique Lamoureux-Morando, who caught the Canadian defense off-guard. Collecting the long diagonal pass, Lamoureux-Morando mounted her own breakaway and finished it off, getting the puck past Szabados on the far side and sending the American fans into delirium with six minutes left in regulation.
Earlier, Knight had nearly leveled the score with a hard and long shot from the right flank — but the puck was deflected and caught by Canada’s goalie, Szabados.
Canada had a chance to build a 3-1 lead moments later, after U.S. player Sidney Morin was penalized for an illegal hit. The Canadians worked the puck down around the goal, setting up a frenzy of shots and blocks — and the Americans managed to escape with the score intact.
The U.S. strategy, as preached by coach Robb Stauber, is to pound the goal with shots. The Americans did that from the start and finished the first two periods with a 22-16 lead in shots on goal.
The Americans got a power play opportunity nearly midway through the first period, but they were not able to convert it into a score. That came after Canada’s Jennifer Wakefield lowered her shoulder to level American Dani Cameranesi along the boards – a sign that this would indeed be a physical matchup. Wakefield was put in the penalty box for an illegal hit.
As happens between two rivals who know each other all too well, there were chippy moments. Away from the action late in the first period, Sarah Nurse slashed her stick down hard in the open ice, knocking the stick out of her U.S. opponent’s hands. The sizeable Canadian fanbase in attendance booed in protest as Nurse was put in the penalty box.
In the preliminary games before the begin of the elimination round, Canada beat the U.S., 2-0 — despite the Americans firing more shots on goal, 45-23. That game was a very physical clash, including a scrum around the Canadian goal that took two referees to break up; before it was over, one of Canada’s players had lost her helmet.
In a bit of good news for the U.S. team, its star forward Hilary Knight broke her scoring drought at these Olympics in the semifinal against Finland that put them into this gold-medal match. But the U.S. will have to contend with Canada’s Meghan Agosta, who has 17 career goals at the Winter Games – second all-time. Agosta has won three gold medals.
The American women won the very first Olympic hockey tournament, in 1998. But that was 20 years ago. Since then, Canada has won every time. And often, it’s been at the Americans’ expense: today marks the fifth time the U.S. and Canada have met to decide who gets gold and who gets silver.
The U.S. women have had great success in the World Championships during Canada’s run in the Olympics. But the Americans suffered a heartbreaker in Sochi in 2014, when Canada won the gold medal match in overtime.
Coming into this game, players on both teams said things are different now, and that they were hungry to win the title. They also said this game would be intense and physical — something that proved accurate.
The U.S. and Canada are the only two teams to have ever won an Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey. And while the start time in the U.S. falls on Wednesday night, this year’s title game is taking place on Feb. 22 in South Korea — 38 years after the “Miracle on Ice” of 1980, when the U.S. men’s team upset the Soviet Union.
Canada’s streak of four consecutive team gold medals is now halted; it is second among all Olympic women’s team events, trailing only the U.S. women’s basketball team, who have won six in a row (so far).