In the early days of women’s international hockey, the Canadian women’s team battered and beat down competition with ease. For years, the Canadians were the dominant force, the hockey heavyweight that other nations tried but ultimately failed to knock off.
However, the tide began to turn late in the first decade of the 2000s. A new generation of American stars was coming to the fore and building upon the foundation that had been laid by Hockey Hall of Famers such as Cammi Granato and Angela Ruggiero. Over the next several seasons, the U.S. began its rise to women’s hockey superiority on the strength of stars such as Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker and Meghan Duggan. And despite Canada’s gold-medal victory on home ice at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the Americans’ run of four World Championship victories in five tournaments saw Canada enter the 2014 Sochi Olympics as the underdog for the first time in history.
CASSIE CAMPBELL-PASCALL: (CBC broadcaster) I think that the 2008 generation of the United States, that World Championship team, set the tone for them and is the reason why they have been so successful this past decade.
KATEY STONE: (Team USA coach) You’re putting the work in, you’re getting results, that gives you confidence. I don’t think there was a player or coach or anyone on staff that felt cocky, by any means. It was simply that this was what we were doing, it was working.
BRIANNA DECKER: (Team USA forward) We were on a run against Canada heading into 2014, and we felt good about where we were at as a team heading into the Olympics.
KEVIN DINEEN: (Team Canada coach) The Americans had our number throughout the season and on my watch, certainly.
MEGHAN AGOSTA: (Team Canada forward) Not only had the U.S. continually beat us on a regular basis at the World Championship, but they beat us in the six-game series that year. We had lost so many games to them. Leading into an Olympic Games and not really having the momentum, having the thought that, “Oh man, they beat us this many times,” was definitely tough for us.
As the Olympics drew closer, Canada continued to struggle under Dineen, who had replaced Dan Church when he stepped down in December. With two weeks until Sochi, Team Canada headed overseas to adjust to the time difference and play tune-up games in Austria. They lost their first outing, prompting Dineen to try an unusual tactic.
AGOSTA: Kevin Dineen looked at us one morning and goes, “Girls, we’re taking the day off. Here’s my credit card. You go and enjoy yourself, come together as a team. Something needs to change. And when you come back tomorrow, make sure you’re ready to work hard and you’re prepared.” And that’s what we did.
SHANNON SZABADOS: (Team Canada goalie) I think his exact words were, “Go out, have fun. Just make me one promise. Don’t end up in jail.”
REBECCA JOHNSTON: (Team Canada forward) It was definitely a different approach than we were used to.
SZABADOS: (Hayley Wickenheiser) at first said we’d put the first drink on Kevin’s card. I had (Natalie) Spooner with me and I was like, “OK, we only get one drink,” so we ordered this drink, I don’t even know how big it was. If 16 ounces is a normal tall one, it had to be a 32-ounce drink. I was like, “That counts as one, right?” I made Spooner order one with me, and I’m pretty sure the rest of the night was all covered, too, but we kept ordering those ones, so the next morning was a little hard.
DINEEN: There was a lot of giggling and fun over the next 10 days. We still had one more exhibition game in Austria, and it was amazing. I don’t think (it was due to) that night, or it may have been, I’m not sure, but we blew out a men’s junior team in our final game before Sochi. There was a switch that clicked at that time.
Despite dismantling Switzerland and Finland in their first two Olympic outings, Canada still lacked one thing: belief. Their last win over Team USA was a distant memory. But on the penultimate day of the preliminary round, Canada and the U.S. squared off in a preview of the gold-medal game. Agosta scored the deciding goal late. Canada won 3-2.
STONE: It was a good game, don’t get me wrong, but in the end we missed a few assignments, and it got away from us. That was like a slip, not a fall. Honestly, that performance helped us more than it hurt us.
DECKER: It’s all on us, and we don’t let any doubt creep in at that point. It’s just an opportunity for us to get better in a short period of time.
KACEY BELLAMY: (Team USA defenseman) I don’t think we ever look at a win or a loss in a preliminary round against Team Canada as something that is going to affect us going into a gold-medal game.
JOHNSTON: We for sure weren’t as confident as we needed to be, and it helps when you get a win. It doesn’t even matter how you win. It can be dirty goals or you didn’t deserve it really. Just to get a win under your belt is important, and for us there’s doubt if you’re not able to win against them in many games.
AGOSTA: Being able to play them in the round robin really proved to us that, “Hey, they can be beaten.”
As a result of Canada and the U.S. finishing first and second in Group A, both teams earned byes to the semifinal and won those games to set up an Olympic gold-medal clash between the North American rivals for the fourth time in the tournament’s five-event history. In the final, there are early jitters. Team USA outplays Canada in the first period, but the game doesn’t get its first goal until just after the midway mark of the second frame. The U.S.’s Duggan releases a perfectly placed wrist shot that beats a screened Szabados over her glove with 8:03 left in the period.
DECKER: When Meghan scored, it allowed us to settle in a bit, shake off the nerves. It was my first time there, and there were other girls that it was their first time being in a gold-medal game like that, but it was perfect that it was our captain and leader that was able to do that and capitalize.
BELLAMY: It’s so important to get on the board first, and then you kind of have that confidence. The legs are lighter, you feel like you can play with a little more confidence.
The deficit doesn’t break Team Canada’s spirit. They push back but are unable to equalize before intermission. Then, seconds into the third period, Canada’s Tara Watchorn is whistled for tripping. It snaps a run of three straight Canadian power plays. The U.S. hems Canada in for much of the next two minutes and the advantage is capped when Alex Carpenter tips home a backdoor pass from Knight.
BELLAMY: When you get that 2-0 goal, it was, “All right, now we’re really feeling good.”
DECKER: When we were ahead 2-0, all these different voices take place. You can’t back down too much because you have to make sure we’re pushing the pace, but you can’t be taking dumb chances or penalties that are going to affect us.
SZABADOS: The entire game I have confidence in our girls, and a two-goal deficit with the girls that we had on that bench did not seem overwhelming.
Trailing 2-0 with 18 minutes remaining, Canada puts its head down and drives the play, but every chance is stopped by American goalie Jessie Vetter. The clock is quickly becoming Canada’s enemy.
JOHNSTON: Kevin Dineen switched the lines up with 10 minutes left, and I think that was a really great move by him. Not necessarily that the players were playing poorly, but it was more like, “Something’s not working here, we just have to get something going and change it up.”
DINEEN: I felt good and confident that if we kept with the process something good is going to happen.
AGOSTA: When I looked up and there was five minutes left and we were still losing 2-0, I was like, “Oh man, how are we going to do this? Let’s just try to get one and try to get them on their heels.”
CAMPBELL: We went to commercial break with (five) minutes left, and I said to (CBC play-by-play announcer) Mark Lee – because you know they took the captaincy away from Hayley, they had a coaching change, there was a lot of critical decisions that were made during that year and they were somewhat controversial – “Hey, don’t let me get too negative, there are things I need to say about the (Canadian) program, but give me an elbow if you think I’m getting a little bit too much.” So, we come back from commercial break and (two minutes) later, Brianne Jenner scores for Canada.
It’s not pretty, but it counts. After taking a bank pass from Meaghan Mikkelson and breaking into the U.S. zone, Jenner cuts to the middle and fires a shot that deflects off a U.S. defender Bellamy and past Vetter with 3:26 remaining.
STONE: A puck going wide, maybe about six feet wide, hits one of our kids and goes into the back of the net. Now it’s 2-1 and a totally different situation with around four minutes to go.
BELLAMY: It goes off of my leg, which was a tough one.
AGOSTA: We erupted on the bench. We were one. It didn’t matter who scored. It was like, “OK, girls, let’s go, we got this, we still have time.” It was a boost of energy, and it was almost like we were a whole new team again.
With Canada pressing for the tying goal, Dineen makes the decision to pull Szabados with 1:35 remaining in regulation time and a faceoff in the U.S. zone. The Americans win the draw, but Canada’s Johnston is the first to the puck.
JOHNSTON: I actually passed to (Catherine Ward) and the ref got in the way. So (she) fumbled it and it went right to Kelli Stack, and she shot it down the ice.
DINEEN: I was watching Ward’s reaction because she turned around and her stick got flung around and I was like, “Oh my god, is she going to…” (laughs) She almost clipped the linesman as she was making her pivot to go back.
The puck is heading for the open net. An empty-net goal would give Team USA a 3-1 lead with less than 90 seconds remaining. Agosta gives chase.
JOHNSTON: I was right behind the puck as I see it going down the ice. I just remember thinking, “Oh my god, if this goes in, it’s over, right?”
AGOSTA: I could see the puck going, and I was like, “Oh, please, please, please.” I literally kept skating.
SZABADOS: It was the most slow-motion thing I’ve ever watched in my life. It felt like it took forever.
DINEEN: The puck was on edge, it was rolling, and it had that curve towards the net.
SZABADOS: Agosta is a tremendously fast skater. She does it so effortlessly that it doesn’t look like she’s even trying, so I was, “Go, ‘Gos,’ go! Catch up to this puck!” And I’m sure she was absolutely flying down the ice, but in your mind when you watch her, it’s like, “OK, get your wheels going.”
AGOSTA: I just skated back as fast as I could.
The puck is curling towards the left as it slides down the ice. It clanks off the right post.
SZABADOS: I had a feeling it was going to hit the post, but (I wasn’t sure) whether it was going to hit the post and go in or hit the post and go out.
BELLAMY: When it happened, I went a little blank. I saw the puck go down the ice, and I hear the crowd cheering. We don’t know if it’s going to be an icing, and then you see it hit directly on the post.
DECKER: It was a weird feeling because you felt so excited at one point and then everything gets taken out from under you.
STONE: The thought that went through my head was, “Hmm, what’s going on with the hockey gods here today?”
BELLAMY: You try so hard to just be like, “Damn. We’ll get the next one or we’ll defend as best as we can.” But mentally, you’re thinking, “Why didn’t that go in? Why aren’t things going our way?”
DINEEN: You give yourself a little chuckle and go, “OK, maybe we’ve got something going on our side here today.”
JOHNSTON: I could swear that the hockey gods were in our favor in this game and wanted us to win. That puck was not going in that net.
SZABADOS: The whole play never would have happened if the referee never would have got in Ward’s way. That’s what caused the entire thing. So, I think it was just kind of the hockey gods’ way of relieving that referee of getting in the way of the play.
Agosta recovers the puck and has one thought: get it up ice and get a stoppage. She finds a streaking Jenner, who takes a shot that’s deflected out of play. The clock stops with 1:14 left.
JOHNSTON: We called a timeout, we go to the board, and Kevin was so confident and composed on the bench that we felt like we could do it. “This is the play, this is what we’re going to do.”
CAMPBELL: (Dineen) picked the players that should’ve been on the ice for that final faceoff to a ‘T.’ He was bang-on. That’s kudos to him, that he picked the right group to be out there because he had really juggled the lines in the third period and sat most of the veterans.
Off the ensuing faceoff, Team Canada works the puck around the left-wing boards and gets it to Wickenheiser, who takes a shot that narrowly misses the net. Ward manages to keep the puck in on the right-wing boards, Hayley Irwin plays it into the corner and Johnston grabs it along the boards.
DINEEN: It was (Marie-Philip) Poulin’s job to find some open space and keep looking for that open area.
JOHNSTON: I knew (Poulin) was coming (across) the ice. She was yelling. I heard her.
Johnston throws a backhand pass – a prayer – into the middle of the ice.
JOHNSTON: I just put it a little too far, but it was obviously for the best. The goalie poked it out to (Poulin).
DINEEN: The puck ended up on the right stick and in Marie-Philip’s hands.
SZABADOS: Almost any other player puts that puck into the defenseman’s stick or on the ice into the goalie’s pad. At the time, you’re not really thinking of anything, but of course it’s Poulin, so she takes the time to perfectly place it in the far corner above the goalie’s pad.
The Canadian bench erupts as Poulin ties the game with 55 seconds left. The U.S. players are shell-shocked.
SZABADOS: That goal is probably the most I’ve ever celebrated a goal.
BELLAMY: They got it with under a minute left, so we just had to get out of the third period and go into the locker room and regroup ourselves.
DINEEN: My feeling was that we were back right now, but there was still a minute left in the period and let’s see if we can get them when they’re a little bit in this stage.
JOHNSTON: I was confident we were going to win it at that point.
Neither team musters a chance before the buzzer sounds, and the teams skate off the ice, but the U.S. gets a reminder of how close they were to capturing gold as they head to the dressing room.
BELLAMY: Since they scored with under a minute left, we walked by those silver medals, and I know that everyone saw them…I don’t know if it was subconscious, but I don’t think that was the best for our team mentally to walk by those.
DECKER: I remember walking by those and thinking, “OK, we’re going to get this.” I was confident about the game and confident where we were even though it was a pretty quick turn of events at the end of the third period. But walking by those silver medals, it was like, “That’s a sign that we’re going to win this frickin’ thing.” That’s what I thought, I didn’t have any doubt.
Had it not been for Shannon, they wouldn’t have been in that spot. it could have been 5-2.
– Team USA coach Katey Stone
Team USA comes out flying early in overtime. Thirty seconds into the frame, Szabados is forced to dart around her crease and make a couple of saves. Seconds later, the U.S.’s Gigi Marvin takes a shot that hits the outside of the post. Then Amanda Kessel gets a cycle pass from Stack and sends the puck cross-ice to Bellamy.
SZABADOS: It was behind the net, off the left-glove post, and it went all the way across to the far side. I had to get over there. I almost overslid, and she made a great shot, back the other way I was coming from, so I had to sprawl to get a piece of it.
CAMPBELL: (Szabados) made a huge glove save. Obviously the game would have been over, but that just ignited the Canadians again.
STONE: Had it not been for Shannon, they wouldn’t have even been in that spot because it could have been 5-2.
The hard work by the Americans doesn’t result in a goal, but they earn a power play. Ward gets her stick up on Anne Schleper during a scramble around the crease and is called for cross-checking. Stone takes the opportunity to draw up a play, and the U.S. gets a shot from the blueline. Szabados makes the save and receives a tap from Team USA’s Jocelyne Lamoureux, who gets whistled for slashing.
STONE: We had a quick whistle on Jocelyne Lamoureux and that didn’t feel right. That was something that felt like something is going on here. It just didn’t feel right.
The 4-on-4 overtime becomes a 3-on-3 with 13:45 remaining. One minute later, an errant pass by Knight handcuffs Schleper, who falls. Wickenheiser jumps on the puck and sprints down the ice. Knight catches Wickenheiser as she enters the attacking zone, tries to leap around the Canadian veteran and knocks her to the ice. The referee’s arm shoots up. Knight heads to the box for cross-checking. Canada receives a 4-on-3 power play.
CAMPBELL: I don’t really think it was a penalty. I think the ref had to call it because ‘Wick’ was on a breakaway, but it was almost just like (Knight’s) toe hits the heel of ‘Wick’s’ skate as she’s trying to go around her.
STONE: Anytime you have to kill a 4-on-3 with the kind of talent you have on the ice, whether it’s U.S. or Canada, chances are somebody’s going to score if you give them the chance.
Dineen throws Wickenheiser, Johnston, Poulin and Laura Fortino over the boards. Canada only has the 4-on-3 advantage for the next 39 seconds, and the U.S. kills off half of that by clearing the zone early. Canada crosses back into the attacking zone with 21 seconds remaining on the power play and gets a quick shot from the top of the circle before setting up properly with seven seconds left. Fortino is the quarterback.
SZABADOS: There was a lot of movement around the outside, and you kind of turn into a fan. You know the players are going to make the right decision and shoot at the proper time, but at the same time, you’re watching the clock wind down and thinking, “OK, we need to get a shot here soon, guys.”
Fortino makes a slap pass to Johnston, who one-touches it back. Fortino passes to Poulin, who sends a pass right back.
CAMPBELL: Team USA got a little tight, their triangle got tight, and sometimes that’s what happens when you’re 4-on-3.
Fortino winds up. The fake causes American penalty killer Julie Chu to drop down to block the shot. Fortino slides it over to Poulin, who has a wide-open net. She makes no mistake.
JOHNSTON: Fortino’s fake almost faked me out a little bit.
AGOSTA: The poise, calmness and skill set that Fortino had to give the puck over instead of being selfish and taking a shot on net, that’s what allowed Poulin to have that open net. It’s tough for a goaltender to stop a puck across the grain and that’s what happened.
SZABADOS: The U.S. kind of fell behind on the pass back to Poulin, Vetter lost the pass back and was a few seconds, or milliseconds, behind seeing Poulin and the puck.
JOHNSTON: When I saw the puck go in, it was a sigh of relief and like, “Holy s—, I can’t believe we did that.”
BELLAMY: When (Poulin) scored the first goal, you’re like, “Is this girl serious? Oh my gosh.” And then for her to score the game-winning goal in overtime, it’s like, “This is what she was born to do.”
For the Canadians, celebration begins. For the Americans, there’s shock and disbelief of letting a third-period lead slip away.
JOHNSTON: That celebration and everything afterwards, how it happened and how we won, it was an amazing feeling and one we’ll never forget.
SZABADOS: I have never skated so fast in my entire life to try to get down to the other end. Genevieve Lacasse, who was our third goalie at the time, was in street clothes, and she was down by the bench. She beat me to the pile, and I was flying in so hard that I absolutely crushed her in my goalie equipment at full speed.
DINEEN: When we scored, I kind of gave a little pivot and the first thing I caught, as much as it was our team as I was walking down to enjoy the moment with our assistants, I caught a glimpse of the American bench, and you realize it’s a two-way street.
DECKER: It’s heartbreaking. I would say that’s exactly how every one of my teammates can describe that feeling. It’s just stripped from you, and at that point I’m not happy to win silver at all.
BELLAMY: I can’t even put it into words. It’s something that I think about probably weekly now. After it happened, I didn’t know if I wanted to keep playing hockey.
STONE: It’s a feeling of emptiness that doesn’t go away.
The nature of Canada’s victory makes it an iconic moment in the nation’s rich hockey history and shines a spotlight on the women’s game, but it also changed the U.S. program forever.
DINEEN: We didn’t know the impact until after the game, the time change and how many people were actually watching in Canada and the U.S.
JOHNSTON: It was a stepping stone for women’s hockey and helped show the talent and the excitement of the game.
DECKER: Mentally, we just became stronger as a group all around and really focused in on the mental preparation and the mental side of things.
BELLAMY: When you win, you think you don’t have to change things and you keep on going. But when you lose, that’s that time where you really have to look in the mirror.
CAMPBELL: I’m still not over the loss (in the gold-medal game at the 1998 Nagano Olympics). It bothers me to this day. But it also made me a better player, person and leader. And that’s exactly what the Sochi Olympics did to the U.S. It woke them up that they needed to learn how to win in key moments and key situations, and they found a way to get it done in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.