SOCHI, Russia -- The United States women's hockey team stood at the other end of the rink as the Canadians brought out their flags and their fans began to sing the national anthem. Some of the U.S. women looked straight ahead in disbelief while others looked down in sorrow. They stood together, even in defeat, still a team.
The U.S. had carried the lead for over 59 minutes of the gold-medal game at the Bolshoy Ice Dome Thursday when Canada put up the equalizing goal with 55 seconds left on the clock. Canada forced the game into sudden death overtime and beat the United States, 3-2, to snatch its fourth consecutive gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games.
The U.S. women stood on the other end of the rink, defeated, until Julie Chu decided that was not the kind of team they had been or would become. Not before Canada won this game. Not after. The team circled the four-time Olympian on the ice and just listened.
"The big thing I just said to them was to keep your heads up high," Chu said after game. "There is nothing to be ashamed of today. Be proud of the way we played. Be proud of the team that we are.
"The journey that we've been on the last four years, the dedication, the commitment, the sacrifices that everyone's made – everyone was all in today.
"The fact that we didn't win doesn't take away the fact that everyone gave up their last four years to be part of his group and to give everything that they could. I'm extremely proud of that."
The United States entered the Sochi Games having defeated archrival Canada four consecutive times in pre-Olympic play. Moreover, the U.S. held the lead in the international rankings.
The U.S. entered the game looking to put its speed and skill ahead of the game that the bigger and more physical Canadians would bring to the ice in Sochi. Having come off a loss to Canada in the preliminary round at the Games, the U.S. made gains in the second period of Thursday's final and dictated the pace for most of the game.
After a scoreless first period, U.S. captain Meghan Duggan shot the puck high past a screen of players in front of Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados to give Team USA the lead 11:57 into the second period.
Alex Carpenter made it 2-0 just over two minutes into the third period, positioning herself at the goal mouth to connect the sharp cross-pass by Hilary Knight. Canadian forward Brianne Jenner put her team on the board with less than five minutes remaining in the game before Canada pulled its goalie for an extra attacker.
With seconds remaining in the game, Team USA almost made it 3-1 with a long shot by Kelli Stack that skid down the rink toward an empty Canada net, instead hitting the post and coming to a stand still.
Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin pocketed Canada's last-minute equalizer to pull the teams into the overtime. Playing with 4-on-3 advantage after Knight was sent to the penalty box for cross-checking, Poulin caught the puck off her teammates and drove the shot past Vetter for the game-winner.
"It's hockey," Duggan said of the way the game unfolded Thursday. "In our sport, it's tough that you have to lose your last game to win a silver medal. It's an emotional journey, regardless if we win or lose."
Each U.S. player filed through the post-game press area, stopping for every question any reporter had. Even in defeat, they filed through honorably and with pride.
“I hope people don't see that us being a little disappointed in the moment that we don't appreciate being Olympians and that we don't appreciate the silver medal around our neck, we absolutely do,” Chu said. “Win or lose, we've always done this together.”