For an Olympics that has been woefully short on memorable performances, the US women’s hockey team delivered the best, most perfect, moment of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
There were plenty of stories being hyped-up leading into the PyeongChang Games. There was snowboarder Shaun White looking for redemption at the halfpipe after his fourth-place in 2014. Snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis was still trying to silence the ghosts of 2006. And, of course, there was alpine racer Lindsey Vonn, returning to the Olympics after an injury forced her to miss the games in Sochi.
Under the radar was the U.S. women’s hockey team.
After heartbreaking loss to Canada in overtime in 2014, the U.S. women have been on a four-year mission that culminated on Wednesday night with an astounding, nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat victory for the ages.
Other such storylines that have concluded during the Olympics have either been tarnished to various degrees or have resulted in less than stellar performances.
After White’s victorious, near-perfect halfpipe performance to win the gold medal, he was immediately confronted by the demons of his past as White came face to face with his own #metoo accusations.
Vonn finished her best event with a bronze, which shouldn’t be criticized in the least. But, her comments towards President Trump in the past have made her a target for trolls who have wished her ill and were more than happy to see her bid for gold come up short. If this is Vonn’s last Olympics, she leaves a lasting legacy and, as she put it, gave it everything she could.
Jacobellis still hasn’t reached the top of the podium after coming oh-so close in recent Games, including her tragic, if there is such a thing, second-place finish in 2006.
What was absolute perfection, however, was how the US women beat Canada in the gold medal hockey game. It was riveting television and everything we love about sports unifying a nation, even if only for a couple hours. In fact, it was so perfect, I vote we just have the closing ceremonies right now because nothing will top that victory.
Canada had won four straight gold medal games going into PyeongChang, dating back to 2002. They had beaten the U.S. team earlier in a preliminary-round game 2-1. The Canadians have long been the dominant force in hockey. While this wasn’t a David versus Goliath scenario that the men’s hockey team faced in 1980 against the Russians, it was at least a John McClane versus a bunch of bad guys at the Nakatomi tower.
After jumping out to 1-0 lead, the United Stated allowed the Canadians two goals in the second period. The U.S. tied it late in the final period but neither team could find the net in overtime.
If the following shootout to decide the game wasn’t intense enough, even it had to go to extra shooters after the first five on each team couldn’t decide the outcome. Then, this happened.
.@TeamUSA IS GOLDEN!
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 22, 2018
Jocelyne Lamoureux’s spectacular shot for the 3-2 win, and Maddie Rooney’s ensuing save, will go down as one the greatest moments in U.S. Olympic history. It was the US’ first Olympic hockey title in 20 years.
Not only was it a perfect sports moment, it was a signature triumph in light of current gender and political upheaval in our country.
These women flat-out came to play. This game was as graceful as it could be brutal.
Checking is illegal but apparently this is cool pic.twitter.com/EsUFgVbzSd
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) February 22, 2018
And to think all of this coming off the heels of a tumultuous year in which the US women have been battling USA Hockey over fair wages that saw a near boycott of the World Championships in 2017.
Fortunately, a deal was eventually struck that included a bump in women’s salaries, better accommodations and funding.
The women then beat Canada at the World Championships and set their sites on the Olympics and putting to a halt Canada’s hockey dominance.
What followed at the Olympic gold medal game was the most entertaining sporting event I have seen all year. Granted, it’s only February, but good luck to all other sports attempting to rival this game for the next 10 months
The U.S.’ victory was not just a signature moment for gender equality. No matter what side of the political spectrum you fell on, we were all on the edge of our seats watching this game. Perhaps, these women have yet to enter the spotlight enough to piss anyone off. But, the entire country was behind every member of this team. Not since the U.S. women’s soccer team as a group of women pulled the nation together for a sporting event.
But, this win by the United States doesn’t nearly strike the same cord without there being a foe capable enough of performing to the magnitude of the moment. The Canadians were just has determined to win and just as admirable in their performance. It took more than an overtime and five shootouts for the United States to earn this victory and every second of this game was a marathon on holding your breathe.
Despite the proclamation that you can only win gold and bronze in hockey, but never silver because you must lose to get it, the Canadians earned every bit of that silver medal. The difference between a silver and a bronze in this instance is more than just mere tenths of a second.
While the United States seen disappointing returns on medal counts, we will always have this moment; a moment that transcends medals and stands higher than any podium. The women of hockey are doing for their sport what women did for a soccer a generation ago. That alone should be just be as exciting for hockey as this single game was.
As for 2022 and the next great moment? I’m looking at you, curling.