This was it: the biggest game of the women’s hockey cycle with the Olympic gold medal on the line. This particular Olympics also happened to be the twenty-year anniversary the 1998 Olympics, which were the inaugural games to feature women’s hockey. Nagano had been the only time the US had won gold—until now.
For the most important game since Sochi both teams went with their best goaltender. For Canada that was an easy answer, veteran Shannon Szabados who had backed the team to their previous two gold medals. On the other hand, US head coach Robb Stauber put in Maddie Rooney who he had been favoring in the tournament over Nicole Hensley and Alex Rigsby, the latter of whom received no ice time. In any game the goaltender can make or break victory for the team, which showed a lot of faith in Rooney, which turned out to be well deserved.
The teams were off like a shot after puck drop, however it took until 3:31 of the first when Blayre Turnbull made a wrap around attempt to get the first shot of the game Kali Flanagan then had to use her body to push Haley Irwin out of position to keep her from scoring as Canada ramped up their attack on Rooney. It took roughly seven and a half minutes into the game for Kelly Pannek to the first shot of the game for the US. Melodie Daoust fed the puck to Meghan Agosta for the shot, but Megan Keller swiped at the puck and wrecked the shot.
Jennifer Wakefield made an illegal hit at 9:35, which put the US on a power play. They got some nice puck cycling going, but Canada killed the penalty. Then the Canadians were back on the attack and Rooney went down after diving backwards for save during a flurry and, while it continued for a little longer, the US eventually cleared the puck. Emily Pfalzer tried to get past Jocelyne Larocque with the puck, but was knocked down instead, sending Larocque to the box for interference at 13:18. This penalty was also killed.
Marie-Philip Poulin had a solid mid range shot into Rooney, then she was knocked down by the crease. A little later Monique Lamoureux-Morando tried to take the puck from Szabados as she was corralling it and nearly started a fight with the rest of the Canadians on the ice. Sarah Nurse went for interference after Amanda Pelkey whacked her stick lightly a couple of times and then Nurse hacked down on Pelkey’s, knocking it from her hands, at 18:26. On the penalty Canada got away with too many skaters on the ice. Then as the US cycled the puck Hilary Knight tipped in Sidney Morin’s left circle shot as she screened it at 19:34. Brianna Decker had the second assist.
Second period started with Amanda Kessel getting denied on a nice right side shot. Renata Fast and Cayla Barnes went down together, no calls. Then Irwin scored at 2:00 by tapping in Turnbull’s shot after Turnbull flew down the right side and beat Lee Stecklein. Poulin earned a penalty for tripping Pannek at 2:18. The Americans caused a huge mess at Canada’s crease and Hannah Brandt had a solid shot on goal, but Kessel wasn’t quite in position to catch the rebound, which turned the power play into a killed penalty.
Rebecca Johnston had a shot and Rooney made the save. Agosta picked up Daoust’s drop pass, flew down the left side, and made a lateral pass to an open Poulin, who scored at 6:55, putting Canada in the lead. This made the US pick up their shot count, which Szabados kept blocking, but she wasn’t controlling her rebounds in her typically amazing fashion, which made the US’s inability to catch their rebounds even more frustrating to watch.
Morin made an illegal hit at 12:00 and on the penalty kill Daoust whacked Dani Cameranesi’s stick out of her hands, but the US eventually killed the penalty. However, Daoust wasn’t able to get away with it a second time and went to the box for slashing at 15:13. There were a lot of great US chances, the best of which being Knight’s tip in attempt off Coyne’s shot, but the penalty expired harmlessly two minutes later. Lamoureux-Morando boarded Brianne Jenner and had to sit for two at 17:58, which used up the rest of the period.
Third period Decker tried to drive the puck home and Poulin smashed her shoulder into Decker’s head just to the right of the crease. There was no penalty called despite the egregious hit and Decker looked injured as she skated off the ice, though she was able to play later in the game. The Canadian sharks circled around Rooney, but she stood tall in her crease as Szabados swatted off shots at her end of the rink. A Kessel shot kicked off another US frenzy as they tried to tie the game, but the puck was eventually cleared.
A shot on the US goal was stopped and quickly turned into a race to the opposite end of the rink and Pannek feeding Lamoureux-Morando the puck so that she could bury it glove side from the doorstep at 13:29, tying the game. The Gopher line nearly scored with concerted effort, but couldn’t beat the goaltender. Then Emily Clark went for tripping Kacey Bellamy at 15:49, but the US was unable to convert on the power play.
As the game couldn’t be decided in regulation, it went to a twenty-minute sudden death overtime. Every moment of every play was a nail biter, as Olympic overtimes haven’t been the friendliest to the US. Szabados deflected Pannek’s shot into the post as one of many amazing chances she denied. An American point shot hit Szabados’s upraised glove as well. A US player was taken down in Canadian corner without a call and then Bellamy bodily stopped Clark without a penalty as well. Keller’s shot from the slot was deflected. Then Nurse was knocked on her back and pick pocketed by the US crease.
Keller went to the box for driving Poulin into the boards, officially an illegal hit, at 18:25 of OT. Canada immediately used their timeout to plan the best course of action. Coyne had a breakaway attempt, but the rest of it was Canadian puck cycling and shots. One of which that Rooney blocked one that ended up sliding the entire length of the crease just an inch away from the goal line, but never actually touched it. Thus when the buzzer sounded shots were 41-31 in the US’s favor, but the game still tied at 2-2.
This left the game going to a rather unsavory place due to IIHF rules: a shootout. It wasn’t what either team wanted, but after eighty minutes of play there was no going back so to a shootout they went. The format was a requisite five rounds with unique shooters and if there wasn’t a winner determined in that span, players could be reused. For the first five rounds Canada shot first. Natalie Spooner shot first and was foiled by Rooney. Gigi Marvin beat Szabados to score. Agosta scored on Rooney, but Brandt couldn’t bury her shot. Neither Poulin nor Pfalzer got a goal, however Daoust and Kessel both netted theirs. In the fifth round Jenner and Knight had their shots blocked.
That’s when Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson took to the ice faked Szabados out and scored. Agosta was the first repeat of the shootout, but she couldn’t beat Rooney a second time, as her shot hit Rooney, hit the ice, and then Rooney batted it away. The team surged onto the ice and landed on Rooney as America had won the shootout and thus the game. For the first time since Nagano, twenty years, the US beat Canada—3-2 in a shootout, but a win is a win—in an Olympic game and in the process earned their first gold medal since then and second gold overall.
It was a transcendent moment for Team USA and they celebrated with abandon as fans around the world screamed themselves hoarse. So much hugging and flag waving while the Canadians sobbed. All in all a nice reversal from the last couple of Olympic gold medal games and a fitting redemption for the women’s national team after the bitter end to Sochi. After that the three medaling teams filed onto the ice, with Finland now receiving their eventual bronze medals, Canada getting silver, and the US gold. Honestly, this win meant more than simply the twenty-year wait—this capped off the year where the US Women’s National Team achieved victory over Team USA, won Worlds, and cemented a better path for future athletes.
Congratulations, ladies, you finally did it!