Winter Olympics 2002 Ice Hockey Winter Olympics 2002 Ice Hockey


On target

Canada ends losing streak by winning the big one

Posted: Friday February 22, 2002 1:00 AM

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- When Team USA is on, it is what goalie Sarah Tueting last week described as "scary good." But when the gold-medal favorites emerged from the locker room to commence Thursday night's first-place game against Canada, they just looked scared. Every loose puck in the first period belonged to a fast-twitch Canada squad, while the outmuscled U.S. struggled to stitch together a precise passing combination.

It was just over a minute into the game when 5-foot-11 Olympic rookie Caroline Ouellette, who had set up a rather comfortable camp in front of the U.S. goal early in the first period, slammed a feed past U.S. goalie Sara DeCosta for a tone-setting score. "We just came out and forechecked the crap out of them," said Canada forward Lori Dupuis. "The plan was to come out and score the first goal, and after that we felt we had them back on their heels."

After losing in 1998 to Team USA, everything since then had pointed to this moment for Team Canada. Forget World Championships. Forget the eight straight losses to the Americans in pre-Olympic competition. For Canada, this was all about securing the only thing that had eluded them -- Olympic gold.

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    After eight straight wins over Canada since August, how did the U.S. lose its edge now? Was it the pressure of being the universal favorite? Was it the flu bug that ate its way through the Olympic Village last week? For the past year, Team USA had done everything right: The players had given up husbands, children, school to live and train together; they had endured 6 a.m. team jogs before practice; they had traded sugary breakfast cereals for egg whites. "They are very fast, very aggressive," said Canada forward Vicky Sunohara in December. "More than any other team, they really play well together."

    In the game that counted, though, Canada, which paid for just two of 11 penalties, was the team that better earned that description. "It was a process we built upon throughout the season," coach Daniele Sauvageau said of her team's improvement over the course of the past year. "There were some things we wanted to keep for the end."

    Taper wasn't in this team's vocabulary, reports Canada national team veteran France St. Louis, who is now a commentator. "They had the most amazing practices over the past few days," she said as she walked into the E Center Thursday night . "I can't help but think that this game is theirs."

    The main reason the U.S. and Canada are so far ahead of all other countries in womenís hockey -- but only about even with the other menís powerhouses -- is that theyíve got funding for the women. Nations like Finland and Sweden never get dough like that.

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    The buildup was intensified by a surprise meeting that team captain Cassie Campbell called after breakfast the morning of the game. Into the room where Team Canada gathered at the Olympic Village walked the Games' most beloved underdogs: Jamie Salé and David Pelletier . "They told us to pretend that all the American fans in the crowd were cheering for us," said Oullette.

    With Team USA down 3-1 with just five minutes to play in the game, that U.S. crowd began cheering in earnest. Having exorcised Miss Manners in the locker room before the beginning of the second period, the U.S. players had started to pepper Canada goalie Kim St-Pierre with more authoritative shots, and defenseman Tara Mounsey capitalized on her team's fifth power play with a searing slap shot to put the U.S. on the board. Fellow veteran Karen Bye scored on a similar shot with just under four minutes left in the game to pull the U.S within one, but Canada's eight-headed penalty-killing monster would allow nothing more. "We came out slow," said U.S. forward Shelley Looney , "and just ran out of time."

    By delivering another nailbiter, the U.S. and Canada proved once again why theirs is one of the more compelling rivalries in international sports. When Canada was being worked over by the U.S. during pre-Olympic play, some started to wonder if that rivalry would be put on hold this year. But the Canadian players calmly insisted, over and over, that there was just one game they cared about, and they paced themselves accordingly. It seems they had their priorities straight.

    Sports Illustrated writer-reporter Kelley King is in Utah covering the Olympics for the Sports Illustrated Olympic Daily and Check back regularly for more behind-the-scenes reports from Salt Lake City.

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