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U.S. Women’s Hockey: Worth Staying up Late

February 21st, 2018 · No Comments · Olympics

We are staying with relatives who are serious hockey fans.

(Yes. In SoCal.)

There was never any doubt over what was going up on the big-screen TV from 8:10 p.m. (PST): The women’s hockey gold-medal match pitting the United States and Canada at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

And there we sat for four-plus hours, increasingly engrossed by an event that featured great rivals, an event poised on knife’s edge and perhaps the finest women’s hockey match ever played.

That it ended in a victory for the United States, our preferred outcome, was almost incidental.

It was the quality of the competition, the clash of divergent playing styles and the win-or-die emotional undertow that kept us in our seats as Wednesday night became Thursday morning, in California.

Factors in the riveting nature of the event:

–The rivalry. Even 20 years after women’s hockey first appeared at the Olympics (Nagano, 1998), the only matches that matter are those involving Canada and the U.S., and those collisions are the heart of the game. This was their fifth gold-medal final.

–Canada’s legacy as the birthplace of hockey. Many Canadians, I am convinced, would trade their medals from all other winter sports for a couple of hockey golds — for the men but also for the women.

–The quality of play. I was in Nagano and saw the gold-medal match between the U.S. and Canada and, while emotions ran high, the level of play, the technical aspects of it, the skill of handling a round piece of rubber while skating, was not nearly as refined as it has become 20 years later. Pinpoint passes; instant control of the puck; a leap forward in every aspect of the game.

–The flow of the game. U.S. led 1-0 after one period. Canada got two in the second period and looked like it might end 2-1 until Monique Lamoureux scored with 6:21 left. The game went to sudden-death overtime.

–This is when the gap between Canadian toughness/roughness and U.S. skill and finesse was well and truly exposed. Those of us who thought the 4-on-4 nature of overtime would inexorably lead to a Canada victory were shown how things really were as the U.S. dominated the puck with deft handling and steady movement, creating more scoring chances against the bigger, slower Canadians. I did not expect this; rare is the U.S. national team (any sport) that leads the world in skill. Perhaps at display? Canadian historic insistence on being the most physical team and demonstrated by a NFL-level-of-violence hit put on U.S. forward Brianna Decker by Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin. Shoulder to head; the U.S. coaches wanted the referees to assess a five-minute penalty. They got none at all.

–The eternity of the final 100 seconds of the 20 minutes of overtime as Canada enjoyed a 4-3 advantage, after a soft penalty was called on the U.S. The Yanks held on doggedly, and now it was a shootout, and everyone watching is already wrung out.

–The skills of both goalies, Shannon Szabados of Canada and 20-year-old Maddie Rooney of the U.S., went on display. Each turned away three of the five shots — which led to sudden-sudden death and the shot of the century — the fake right, fake left, shoot right move by Jocelyn Lamoureux. Rooney provided the final save, and the U.S. wins.

(If you have not seen the highlights before, indulge yourself in this.)

Some suggested the game was the highlight of the 2018 Olympics, so far. It was a heck of a game, for sure, but it is hard to compare women’s hockey to the rest of the Games because it is only a two-team sport.

But those two teams put on a hell of a production.



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