February 20, 2014

U.S. women heartbroken after letting gold slip away

By Arielle Aronson

Captain Meghan Duggan (10) embraces her teammates after Team USA's overtime loss to Canada in the gold medal game. (Getty Images)

The looks on the faces of Team USA’s players as they received silver medals following a 3-2 overtime loss to Canada said it all. Through tears and grimaces and thousand-mile stares, the Americans showed they did not come to Sochi to win any medal. They came for gold.

They did not get the job done.

Instead, it was Canada who finished the job via Marie-Philip Poulin’s gold-winning goal on a power play 8:10 into overtime. The Canadian women are now tied with the Canadian men’s team of 1920-32 and the Soviet Union’s men’s team of 1964-76 for the most consecutive gold medals in Olympic hockey (four).

Team USA had every opportunity to end that streak. They had a 2-0 lead with 3:30 remaining in regulation thanks to goals from Massachusetts natives Meghan Duggan  (Danvers, Mass.) and Alex Carpenter (North Reading, Mass.), but a complete defensive meltdown by the Americans late in the third period saw those tallies wasted as Canada forced overtime.

While Canada had been pressuring the Americans hard all period, the Americans had been doing a good job of keeping Canada to the perimeter and neutralizing any Canadian chances before they reached the goaltender. Canada attempted 10 shots through the first 12 minutes of the period. Only three of those shots reached the net.

But as time wound down, the Canadians pushed harder and the Americans wilted. Team USA let Canada skate more in the middle of the ice, and the Americans paid the price. Canada cut its deficit in half with 3:26 left in regulation when Brianne Jenner skated to the high slot and fired a shot that bounced off USA defenseman Kacey Bellamy’s (Westfield, Mass.) leg and past flailing goaltender Jessie Vetter.

Team USA had an opportunity to go up 3-1 when, with 1:25 left in the game and Canada goaltender Shannon Szabados on the bench, Kelli Stack fired a shot from her own blue line that drifted into the right post rather than the back of the net.

Thirty seconds later, Poulin netted the equalizer for Canada after Vetter uncharacteristically batted a rebound right back into net-front traffic instead of clearing it back to the boards.

“I just kept thinking we were going to win this thing,” Duggan told reporters. “I looked over at one of our goaltenders and said, ‘There’s no way they’re going to score two goals on Vets. She’s hot right now.’ She’s an outstanding goaltender. I think you get a couple of bounces, they’re swarming around the net, and pucks go in.”

Team USA had its chances in overtime as well. In the first minute of play, the Americans fired a bevy of shots from in close against Canadian netminder Shannon Szabados. Bellamy had a particularly great chance slightly over a minute into overtime on a one-timer from the slot, but Szabados made the stop. 

The teams continued to trade opportunities until 6:09 into overtime, when the officials stepped into the game by calling a cross-checking penalty against Catherine Ward, who tackled Anne Schleper with a high hit at the corner of the Canadian net. The US got one shot off on the power play before Team USA’s Jocelyne Lamoureux tapped the goalie’s pad with her stick in an attempt to force a rebound. She earned a slashing penalty on the move, thus ending the American power play six seconds after it began.

During 3-on-3 play, Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser broke up a Schleper scoring opportunity and took the puck the other way on a clear breakaway. Team USA’s Hilary Knight brought down Wickenheiser to hand Canada what looked like a penalty shot opportunity, but the officials chose to send Knight to the box for cross-checking instead.

After the game, Knight fueled more discussion on the overtime officiating by telling reporters she never even made contact with Wickenheiser on the breakaway, a claim that seems to be supported by video replay but is nearly impossible to determine in real time. Knight then added that the game does not rely on one call, as the Americans had plenty of opportunities to win.

Team USA coach Katey Stone (Watertown, Conn.) refused to comment on officiating after the game.

In the end, Canada received a 5-on-3 power play due to the penalty, and Poulin converted by scoring 8:10 into overtime.

"Unfortunately, when you let other factors come in, it can bounce either way,” Knight told the media. “That's what happened today. It's heartbreaking, and you go four years, and you think you've got the game in the bag, and something happens.

“It's unfortunate, but this group has represented our country at an outstanding level. So WE can't really be too heartbroken about it."

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