GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- They did it!
For the first time since 1998, Team USA defeated Canada for the Olympic gold medal in women’s ice hockey at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, prevailing 3-2 in the first shootout in a women’s Olympic final.
Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson buried the puck in the net in the sixth round of the shootout, goaltender Maddie Rooney made the final critical save and pandemonium ensued on the ice. Gloves and sticks flew all over the place, American flags waved, tears streamed down the players’ faces and Team USA embraced the moment with its most significant group hug on the ice in 20 years.
“It’s a little bittersweet right now because we won,” said forward Hilary Knight, who scored the first goal for Team USA in Thursday’s game and took the group selfie, “but at the same this team will never really be together in the same capacity. Hopefully we remain lifelong friends. But this has just been an incredible dream.”
Team USA not only thwarted the Canadians’ “Drive for Five” gold medals, but finally added a second gold to the one it captured in 1998 when women’s hockey made its Olympic debut in Nagano.
“It’s so sweet right now,” said captain Meghan Duggan, “I can’t think about anything except pure excitement and pride and honor for our team. Every single girl on our team has worked so hard, has wanted this – a lot of us since we saw the ’98 team win 20 years ago. And to have this experience together, to represent our country, it’s the greatest honor in the world.”
“And this is one of the greatest days of all of our lives.”
The two North American powerhouses, the only countries to win Olympic gold in women’s ice hockey, met for the fifth time in the final. Team USA won silver in 2002, 2010 and 2014 – a game decided 3-2 in overtime – and bronze in 2006.
Angela Ruggiero, a four-time Olympic medalist and member of the 1998 U.S. team, helped award the medals in her role as an IOC member.
“I’m going to sleep with it tonight,” said Monique Lamoureux-Morando, Jocelyne’s identical twin sister. “It’s indescribable how happy it is to be an Olympic champion. It’s a title that no one can take away from us.
“I’m so proud for this to be 20 years from the 1998 team. I think the stars really aligned in our favor.”
Canada led 2-1 when Lamoureux-Morando tied the game with 6:21 to go in regulation.
“They’re the best fighters I’ve ever been around,” Gigi Marvin said of the twins. “My grandpa would always say, ‘If you’re going to put someone in the trenches with you, who are you going to pick?’ And I’m going to pick the Lams.”
Marvin and the Lamoureux twins are three of the six players who lived through the last two dispiriting losses to Canada at the Olympic Games, the silver little consolation when they were going for gold. The others are Knight, Duggan and Kacey Bellamy. Ten of the 23 team members played in Sochi.
“This was huge for us to get the medal for those older girls that went through that pain,” said Rooney, who had 29 saves. “We knew this was our goal all along and to get it done, it’s great.”
After 60 minutes of regulation, a 20-minute overtime and five rounds of the shootout – with each team making two shots – Team USA coach Robb Stauber asked Lamoureux-Davidson if she wanted to try her hand against Canada’s Shannon Szabados, who had already made 39 saves.
“I said, ‘Absolutely,’” she said. “She’s an amazing goalie and I knew I had to sell the shot, and I did.”
Lamoureux-Davidson had set an Olympic record in pool play against the Olympic Athletes from Russia, scoring two goals in 6 seconds.
Her move on one of those goals is called “Oops, I did it,” said sister Monique. “This was ‘Oops, I did it again.’”
But Rooney still had to play her part again in goal. The 20-year-old from the the University of Minnesota-Duluth, had been poised the entire game and was spotted smiling during the shootout.
“I just looked over at the bench,” she said, “and saw my teammates pointing at me like, ‘One more,’ and that made it a whole lot easier.”
Meghan Agosta, who had already scored for Canada on the second shot of the shootout, was up again. Rooney, anticipated the puck perfectly, stomped it and gave it a second swipe to make sure it wasn’t rolling.
And after that? “It all just went a blur after that to see all my teammates running at me,” she said. “Amazing feeling.”
And then everything went black. “I was on the bottom (of the pile-up),” said Rooney, whose Wikipedia entry was briefly changed to “Secretary of Defense.”
Meanwhile, the Canadian players experienced the emotions Team USA had for two decades. None of them cracked a smile in the victory ceremony and one immediately removed her medal from around her neck.
The U.S. had lost five in a row to Canada before getting the upper hand.
“I felt so sad and heartbroken and felt like I let everybody down last time through,” Knight said, “so that was the feeling after the last Olympics, to kind of let something so powerful slip through your fingers. This time through, totally different mindset: That we’re never going to lose this game.”
As the players warmed up Thursday, “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses blared over the loudspeaker.
Team USA and Team Canada had previously faced each other seven times since 1998 at the Games, four times for the gold medal. Each game was decided by two or fewer goals.
Away from the Games, the United States has had great international success. Team USA is the four-time defending world champion and has won seven of the last eight world titles.
Unlike other sports, where the favorites rarely meet in the pre-Olympic run-up, the U.S. and Canada faced each other frequently to tune up.
Canada had a 5-3 edge leading into the Games, including winning the last four (two in overtime) and then won 2-1 on Feb. 15 in Olympic pool play.
This game was scoreless until Knight scored on a power play with 25.4 seconds to go in the first period, assisted by Sidney Morin and Brianna Decker.
Canada took the lead in the second period, then Team USA stormed through the third period, capped by Lamoureux-Morando’s goal, assisted by Kelly Pannek.
“To be honest, I didn’t think our first period was that sharp, but we just kept getting better every single period and the third period we played great,” said Lamoureux-Davidson. “And Monique found a way to put one in and tie the game up, and there was no doubt on our bench and in our locker room that we were just going to figure it out and find a way.
“I’m digging the new necklace I got today. This isn’t coming off for a while.”
The teams were knotted in overtime when Megan Keller was charged with an illegal hit with 1:25 left. Team USA fended off Canada’s 4-on-3 opportunity to send the game to the shootout.
Canada missed its first shot, then Marvin scored for Team USA. Agosta answered, and Hannah Brandt missed for Team USA. Both teams missed their third shots.
Melodie Daoust put Canada ahead, then Amanda Kessel scored to tie it again. The final shots came down to Brianne Jenner for Canada and Knight for Team USA. Both missed.
“I’m still a little salty that I missed my shot,” Knight said. “I’m going to have work on that. Shannon’s a great goaltender, our women made some plays and the twins came up huge, and then it all came down to Maddie Rooney and she had a gold-medal winning performance.”
Rooney is an example of the great feeder system from U.S. universities. Six members of Team USA played collegiately for the University of Minnesota, five for Boston College, four for Wisconsin and there are others from the University of North Dakota, Lindenwood Univeristy, Northeastern University, the University of New Hampshire and the University of Vermont.
The players making their Olympic debut in PyeongChang, Bellamy said after Team USA advanced to the final, “do not know the heartbreak. We have tried to explain to them what it felt like, but it is great that they have not felt that.”
And now they don’t have to.
For Lamoureux-Morando, dedicating four more years to the gold-medal quest paid off for her and her sister. The sisters were among the players who threatened to boycott the 2017 world championships until the national governing body gave them higher salaries and benefits.
“We very well knew what was at stake,” she said, “knowing we were on the heels of an Olympic year and we knew we would find a way to make a difference and we did. In women’s hockey, we’re now the leading country in the world. We’ve taken huge steps to get there and we’re going to keep taking steps.”
The 28-year-old said she and her twin leave a legacy that goes beyond the goals they scored in the gold-medal game.
“That we left this team and program better off than we came into it,” she said, and I think we’ve done that.”