Canadian women dominate United States for hockey gold

Canada captain Hayley Wickenheiser celebrates with goalie Shannon Szabados after winning gold over United States.
Canada captain Hayley Wickenheiser celebrates with goalie Shannon Szabados after winning gold over United States.
Posted: February 26, 2010

VANCOUVER - Canada and the United States play in a different atmosphere than the rest of the world in women's hockey, which added importance to yesterday's bronze-medal game between Sweden and Finland.

Finland won in an entertaining overtime game, 3-2, a game so hotly contested that it contained what many believe was the first Olympic hockey fight.

Meanwhile, Canada and the United States entered yesterday's gold-medal game with a combined score of 86-4 against the field, then played a tight, physical, penalty-marred scrum that belied both teams' personalities. Canada won 2-0, behind the play of goaltender Shannon Szabados, who wasn't even sure she was going to be the starter until yesterday.

That the Canadians have two goaltenders they would trust to start a gold-medal game underlines the subtle but clear separation between the teams. The two North American superpowers may live on their own Olympus, but Canada's ledge sits just slightly higher than America's.

Szabados stopped 28 U.S. shots yesterday, twice stymieing the U.S. team during 5-on-3 power plays.

"I'm not kidding," said Canada's Carla MacLeod. "After the third shot of the game I thought, 'Oh boy, she's on.' "

"We had our chances," said U.S. forward Jocelyne Lamoureux. "We just couldn't finish."

The U.S. team entered the game as repeat world champions, but those two victories represented their only wins over Canada amid nine defeats. Since losing to the United States in the gold-medal game in Nagano in 1998, Canada has now reeled off 15 straight victories in the Olympics, while winning the last three gold medals.

Angela Ruggiero, one of four players remaining from that 1998 team, thought this team had the same sort of karma as the one in Nagano.

"That's what hurts the most," she said afterwards. "It's such a unique team to play on. I haven't felt that since 1998. I thought this was the year we were going to win a gold medal because of the uniqueness of equal heart, desire, passion, the love of the game.

"We never lost that. We just couldn't put the puck in the net."

With a deafening crowd cheering every shot or save - even the routine ones - Canada got two first-period goals from Marie-Philip Poulin. Her first, a one-timer off a beautiful crossing pass, came after one power play had just expired. Her second came moments after one had begun. When the first period ended, Canada had it all rolling - a hot goalie, hopped up crowd, an American team that looked confused as to what to do next.

The packed place included Canadian dignitaries and hockey dignitaries as well, including Wayne Gretzky. The American men's team and the Canadian men's team also were on hand.

For a night anyway, women's hockey was the show.

And Szabados was its biggest star.

"This rivalry will never end," she said. "It will just keep going on and on and on."

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