GANGNEUNG, South Korea – “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.”
With the words of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” blasting through the arena speakers, Brianna Decker was still reeling with a different type of thumping after Marie-Philip Poulin tried to dislodge her head from the rest of her body.
But just as their tenacious teammate got back up off the ice, so too did the U.S. Women’s Team to win Olympic gold for the first time in 20 years.
It was a moment four years in the making for the 10 players who watched gold slip through their grasp in the waning moments in Sochi, Russia. And while they used that empty feeling to fuel their run this time around, they vowed never to feel that disappointment again.
“There was just something unbelievable in that locker room. Just the belief that we had even going into the third period down a goal and not playing our best game thus far, we knew we were going to get it done,” said Monique Lamoureux-Morando, whose breakaway goal drew the U.S. even at 2-2.
“I’m so proud of everybody on this team. It’s indescribable how it feels to be an Olympic champion, and no one can take away from us.”
After winning gold at the inaugural women’s tournament at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the Americans have been agonizingly close but left the Olympic ice with the empty feeling of coming up just short. Despite winning four consecutive IIHF Women’s World Championships, this team had one thought on its mind.
“You can win as many World Championships as you want but at the end of the day the Olympic gold medal is different,” said U.S. head coach Robb Stauber.
“Quite honestly, if you’re looking at your past successes or failures, when it comes to a game like this, it has very little to do with that outcome. Certainly you can learn from your past, as we did from what happened in 2014, but at the end of the day it’s a new day.”
Monique Lamoureux-Morando tied the game with 6:21 left
Maddie Rooney made 29 saves, and stopped 4 of 6 shots in the shootout
And with the promise of a new day comes with it new challenges. Or in this case, the familiar challenge of trying to solve Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados, who has stymied U.S. shooters in the last two Olympic gold-medal games.
After holding a 45-23 shot advantage the last time they met in the preliminary, the American offensive machine was held in check early on, failing to register their first shot on goal until the 12-minute mark of the first period. And when they eventually did generate scoring chances, Szabados was up to the task.
And as is usually the case when these two teams meet, it was a physical affair with plenty of plays that pushed the boundaries of what constitutes incidental body contact and outright body checks.
The Canadians were whistled for penalties early and often leading to three U.S. power plays. On the third one, Hilary Knight redirected a low shot from Sidney Morin that snuck through Szabados’ legs with 25 seconds remaining in the first period.
As the teams exited the ice, Canadian coach Laura Schuler gave the referees an earful about what she viewed as one-sided calls.
Second period goals by Haley Irwin and Poulin flipped the scoreboard, leaving the Americans with 20 minutes to find the equalizer. It came as the result of a bad Canadian line change that left Lamoureux-Morando in all alone, and she beat Szabados high to the glove side.
Earlier in the period Decker was nearly decapitated by Poulin in front of the net after losing the handle on the puck on a 2-on-1. She would miss several shifts trying to clear the cobwebs but was back playing a regular shift down the stretch in regulation and throughout the 20-minute overtime.
Afterward, the signs that she had been in a tough battle was clearly evident by the bruise on the bridge of her nose.
“It’s a good scar to have, especially since I have this right here,” she said pointing to her gold medal.
Both teams looked content to play it safe in the extra session of 4-on-4 hockey until Megan Keller pulled down Poulin, and suddenly shades of Sochi crept back into the minds of those veteran players.
“When we got that penalty I was like this is sort of a living nightmare for us at the Olympics,” said Knight, whose penalty in overtime four years ago led to the winning goal. “But our PK was great. We all had our different jobs to do at big moments and people made those little plays that turned out to be big for us.”
For the second day in a row, a U.S. team found itself headed for a shootout. Unlike yesterday’s stunning loss by the U.S. Men’ Team, this time around Gigi Marvin, Amanda Kessel and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson all managed to find the back of the net, and Maddie Rooney turned aside Agosta’s final attempt to ignite a joyous celebration that quickly spilled over the boards to mob the 20-year-old netminder.
“Yesterday the men’s team lost in a shootout and two of our coaches said, ‘God, that’s a terrible way to lose,’” Stauber said. “My first response was, ‘Unless you’re on the other end.’ And we were on the other end tonight.”
After making a tearful exit from the ice in Sochi, this group was more than happy to bask in a moment 20 years in the making. They posed for selfies with their medals and shared the moment with friends and family members.
For a team that has been through so much together on and off the ice, there was a bittersweet element to the celebration as they knew this would likely be the last time they would be all together.
“Since we’ve been here our mission has been clear, we stay in the moment. We really showed that today. We took it one shift at a time, we took it minute by minute,” said captain Meghan Duggan.
“I’m just so proud of the team, so much honor, so much pride. I’m really excited to celebrate with the girls.
|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