Canada, USA lives up to billing yet again in Pyeongchang

It was a heartbreaker for the Canadian women's hockey team as they fall to the USA in the sixth round of shootouts in Pyeongchang.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — The goalie who backstopped Canada to two Olympic gold medals in her previous appearances on this stage walked up slowly, still wearing her pads, skates and her white Team Canada jersey. Shannon Szabados was red-eyed and straight-faced, with a silver medal dangling around her neck on a pink and teal ribbon.

One of the best goalies in the world didn’t want to relive the sixth American attempt on the shootout, the one that got past her and ended Canada’s bid for a fifth straight gold medal here. It came off the stick of veteran American forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, who knew exactly what she was going to do as she skated down that Olympic ice, who had even given the move a name: “Oops, I did it again.”

“I don’t know, there’s so many shots,” Szabados said, when asked about the one that resulted in America’s first Olympic hockey gold in 20 years. “I don’t know how to break it down for you.”

Szabados, the 31-year-old from Edmonton, was her team’s best player on Thursday, facing 42 shots in a 3-2 American victory at Gangeneung Hockey Centre, a 2-2 tie that had to be broken in the way great games should never be decided. She’s the reason the game went to overtime, the reason Canada survived that extra period to get to the shootout. Szabados’s eyes welled up as she thought back to the journey here, as she thought about the injuries she had in the lead-up, the reason she could only play in three games for Canada before the Olympics started.

“It was hard not to be there for the girls all year,” Szabados said, voice shaking. “And then, coming down to the wire like this and not walk away with a gold medal.”

Nobody on this Canadian team wanted that silver medal. This program hasn’t seen heartbreak here since 1998, the first Winter Games to feature women’s hockey. Defenceman Jocelyne Larocque took her silver medal off right after it was placed around her neck. The 29-year-old stood there, holding it, as she watched the American flag rise the highest in those rafters, as she heard Team USA sing along to their anthem.

“I mean, we were going for gold,” Larocque said, later, “and I’m proud of this whole team, but we were chasing that gold medal.” The silver medal might seem like an accomplishment down the road, Larocque said, “but not at the moment.”

This game—incredible, back-and-forth, physical, fast, full of highlight-reel goals—all came down to a single moment, in the end. Eighty minutes of play couldn’t decide it, including 20 of those minutes spent in 4-on-4 overtime, and so it went to a string of breakaway attempts that belong on all the highlight-reels. The four goals scored before Lamoureux-Davidson’s, by Amanda Kessel, Gigi Marvin, Meghan Agosta and Melodie Daoust, were all filthy, a showcase of the world’s best.

Of course, you won’t find a Canadian who thought a classic like this should’ve ended that way. Agosta, a three-time Olympic gold medallist who put her first attempt top shelf, was interviewed for less than two minutes and said it was “unfortunate that we had to lose in a shootout” in four different ways.

It was tied 2-2 through 10 shooters in all when Team USA head coach Rob Stauber asked Lamoureux-Davidson if she’d be up for taking that sixth shot. Now, on a penalty shot attempt against Canada during their round-robin here, the 28-year-old from North Dakota had faked a between-the-legs move, then gone to her backhand, and then Canadian goalie Genevieve Lacasse had stopped it and smiled and she might’ve even winked.

“I looked like an idiot,” Lamoureux-Davidson said, recalling the moment with that gold medal hanging around her neck. This time around, she knew exactly what she was going to do. It was a move she’d practiced thousands of times, “butchered thousands of times,” she said. She’d tried it successfully earlier in the tournament, against Russia, but with one less move. That one was called: “Oops, I did it.”

Lamoureux-Davidson skated down the ice and she faked a shot—hard—on her forehand. “I knew I had to sell that shot,” she said, because she was up against Szabados, who she called “amazing,” twice. Then she brought the puck around to her backhand, and when you thought (for the second time) that she was going to shoot, she whipped back to her forehand, sending the Canadian goalie sprawling. Lamoureux-Davidson put it in and she fist-pumped, hard.

“You know what?” she said. “I feel like I kind of blacked out. I don’t even know what she did when I faked the shot. I probably maybe could have gone to my backhand.”

If you ask veteran teammate Gigi Marvin, who called the shootout “sick,” in a good way, Lamoureux-Davidson could have “burned” Szabados on that backhand. “But she was like, ‘Nah, why not really cap it off?’” Marvin said, smiling.

But the game wasn’t quite over, not yet. Canada still had to shoot. Up came Agosta, who’s scored more goals for this national team than any other player on the roster. On the American bench, when Brianna Decker saw Agosta skating out to centre for her second attempt of the game, she looked over at Team USA’s 20-year-old goalie, Maddie Rooney, the kid playing in her first Olympic final, and she pointed at her. “I was like, ‘You got this,’” Decker said. “And she knew she had it.”

Once they all knew for sure, American bodies, sticks and gloves flew through the air. As they flooded the ice, a few players ran into Agosta, who was skating back to her bench to join her teammates, most of whom were staring down to avoid watching that American celebration, while “Born in the USA” and “Don’t Stop Believing” played on the rink’s speakers.

It came down to the absolute last thing it can come down to, but ask any American, and this game was never in doubt. Maybe it had something to do with four years ago, when the game was also tied 2-2 and ended in overtime, with Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin netting the winner. It had been absolute heartbreak, then: The Americans led 2-0 with less than four minutes to go, and they lost.

Their captain then and now, Meghan Duggan, had faced the media with tears streaming down her face. This time, she walked through with a smile and a gold medal and she chanted: “Maddie! Maddie!” for the young goalie who’d stood on her head in the shootout.

But how did they really know they had it this time? “We’re just so powerful,” said Hilary Knight, who scored her team’s first goal, in the first period. “We were in the locker room, we’re like, ‘All right, let’s go.’ Joking around on the bench with Hannah [Brandt] before the shootout, like, ‘This is just another shootout. It’s crazy that it’s going to come down to this, but we’re going to win.’ There was no doubt.”

Marvin, the 30-year-old forward, said that’s been her team’s opponent for years. “It’s always the doubt,” she said. “And I think the biggest thing is just the doubt and the fear. We were able to push everything away, up 1-0, then give up two goals, then tie it, then we’re in a shootout.

“I mean, how many opportunities do you have to just mentally cave? How many? And we didn’t. We just crushed the fear and crushed the doubt and just trusted in what was to come.”

Canada certainly did enough to instill doubt in the Americans. For a while there, it looked like the Canadians were going to win a fifth straight. They scored twice in four minutes and 37 seconds in the second period, on goals from Haley Irwin and Poulin. On that second goal, Team USA for some reason left the author of the game-winners at the last two Olympics open in the slot, and Poulin one-timed a beautiful Agosta pass past Rooney.

You knew the captain would be visible out there. She also came up with the biggest hit in a game full of them, and you saw zero complaints from Scott Moir on that one. Earlier, in the first period, the three-time Olympic gold medal-winning ice dancer had stood up—beer in hand—after a third straight Canadian penalty, and yelled, “Are you kidding me? Wake up!” He didn’t object to Poulin’s hit, however—she came through with an elbow and took out Brianna Decker right in front of the net. It somehow didn’t draw a penalty.

Sporting a cut at the bridge of her nose after the game, Decker said, “It’s a good scar to have after this memory right here.” She also pointed out, “We knew that we would come out on top.”

Certainly the momentum shifted in the third, when Team USA tied this game up with little more than six minutes to go. Monique Lamoureux-Morando, who has hands just like her twin sister, found herself alone on a breakaway after a bad Canadian line change, and she beat Szabados glove-side to tie the game, 2-2.

Once the 4-on-4 overtime began, it was a different game altogether. The Americans were faster, they had legs, they had most of the chances, and Szabados made a couple of big blocker saves to keep her team in it. Maybe it shouldn’t have ended in a shootout, but certainly the team that had the late-game momentum is the team that won it all.

Many of these players, on both teams, now know the emotions of winning here and losing here. Kessel was asked what the win meant to her and she said “everything.”

“It’s a complete different story here, and I know that feeling,” she said, referring to the way those 23 Canadian women must be feeling right now. “And this,” Kessel added, grinning, “there’s no better feeling than this.”

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