As the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard clock perched high above the ice inside the Big Hat ice hockey arena in Nagano, Japan, the 20 members of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team impatiently waited to pour onto the ice to celebrate the first gold medal in women’s Olympic hockey history.
Moments later, Karyn Bye skated triumphantly around the ice with the Stars and Stripes draped over her shoulder, a la Jim Craig in 1980.
“I needed that flag around me because 20 members of this team represent this country and I’m so proud to be an American,” the River Falls, Wis., native said. “I don’t know if it’s sank in yet, but I guess were making history right now.”
The 1998 gold medal celebration photo
The on-ice celebration eventually gave way to a deeper reflection of what had just transpired. With her gold medal still hanging around her neck, Cammi Granato talked about how one well-placed victory could inspire future generations of young hockey players watching back home.
“I hope this has a big impact on young girls and boys,” said the younger sister of Tony Granato, who coaches the 2018 U.S. Olympic Men’s Team.
“It’s about time women’s hockey got some exposure.”
Her words rang true as a half a world away a 10-year girl sat inside her Danvers, Mass., home dreaming that one day she too would achieve Olympic gold and glory.
Including this year, Meghan Duggan had the honor of wearing the red, white and blue three times now at the Olympic Winter Games. Like so many of her teammates, she still recalls the feeling of pride as she watched women’s hockey take center stage.
“When I think back to watching the 1998 team and meeting Gretchen Ulion and having the opportunity to wear her gold medal, it changed my life. It changed the path I chose, the schools I attended and the cities I lived in. It’s why I’m standing where I am today,” recalled Duggan, who again captains this year’s squad.
Just as the “Miracle on Ice” inspired what would later come to be known as the “greatest generation” of NHL players, Granato and her teammates opened the door for females of all ages to find a league of their own.
And today, on the anniversary of that magical moment, this current crop of American players is ready to follow their idols and bring home an Olympic gold medal.
Captain Meghan Duggan is ready to lead Team USA into tomorrow's semifinals
“At the end of the day it’s cyclical,” said Sue Merz, one of those 13 players who reunited in Boston earlier this fall to help kick off The Time Is Now pre-Olympic tour.
“I look at the women who came before us, players like Cindy Curley and Kelly Dyer, they paved the way for us and didn’t get this chance to experience this. I look at our opportunity in ’98 as what it was, and we capitalized on it. I know it made an impression on a fair number of athletes who are playing hockey today.”
Even 20 years later, most of these women look like they could still lace up the skates and compete for Olympic gold. Instead they are happy to look ahead in hopes that this year’s team can take the sport to even greater heights.
“I know we made an impression on these women and because it’s so much bigger now than it was even 20 years ago, these women are going to have an even bigger impression on the next generation of girls’ hockey, and sports in general,” Merz said.
Many of these women continue to have an impact on the game, whether it’s as a mom whose kids are now playing hockey or following the lead of their long-time coach and mentor Ben Smith, who was recently inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
“My daughter just started Learn to Play and she’s getting into it. She’s 4 and loves it,” said Katie King, who is in her 10th season coaching the powerhouse women’s program at Boston College. “I think the whole thing has grown so much and seeing so many girls starting at such a young age is amazing. The number of girls’ teams has just escalated so much and it’s fun to see.”
Standing in the way of Olympic gold and glory will once again be a familiar red and white roadblock. After losing in Nagano, Canada has owned the Olympic podium, winning four straight gold medals, including a stunning come-from-behind victory at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
In fact, other than a stunning semifinal loss by the Americans at the 2006 Olympics, it’s been the North American rivals facing off with gold on the line in every major international tournament. At the IIHF Women’s World Championships, the U.S. has won eight of the last 10 tournaments, including last year in Plymouth, Mich.
But it’s Olympic gold that drives this group of U.S. players to follow the path of the 1998 pioneers and take that final step up the medals podium here in Gangneung, South Korea.
“That was a powerful group of women that did something amazing by sticking together and putting their minds to bringing home that gold medal,” Duggan said.
“When I think about the team and the special group we have right now, there’s a lot of parallels. To me, this is the group that’s going to do what that group did 20 years ago.”
|Sun., Feb 11||Finland||Preliminary||W, 3-1||Kwandong Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Tues., Feb 13||Olympic Athletes From Russia||Preliminary||W, 5-0||Kwandong Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Thurs., Feb. 15||Canada||Preliminary||L, 1-2||Kwandong Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Mon., Feb. 19||Finland||Semifinals||W, 5-0||Gangneung Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Thurs., Feb. 22||Canada||Gold-Medal Game||W, 3-2 (SO)||Gangneung Hockey Centre||NBCSN