Canada wins game, but Russian goalie starsPosted: Wednesday February 13, 2002 7:39 PM
Updated: Thursday February 14, 2002 2:05 AM
She made a sprawling glove save on first-line center Cherie Piper four minutes into game. She knocked down a backhand by wicked sniper Hayley Wickenheiser a few minutes later. She stopped more than a few breakaways, and late in the game she turned away powerful Vicky Sunohara, who was looming large (5-foot-7, 170 pounds) in the crease and trying to stuff the puck right through little Irinska's tummy.
Folks, Gashennikova made 52 saves Wednesday. "She was awesome," said Canadian goalie Sami Jo Small shortly after the game. "There's a kinship between goalies, so when you see her making so many great saves, you feel kind of proud of her. That's because she wasn't beating us, of course."
Beating them? Hardly. Try Canada 7, Russia 0. Try a shot differential of 59-6. It is only in a world where such one-sided victories have become the norm (Russia has never come within a field goal of even playing Canada to a draw in an international tournament) that we can look at those final scores and still say, "Y'know, that Russian goalie had a pretty good game."
Gashennikova, though, was not amused. She looked sad in the runway after the game, and she rubbed her nose.
Everyone knew from the moment they glanced at the draw sheet Wednesday morning that Russia was dead on the frozen water before the first puck was dropped. There was a brief time, though, when the Russians put up a fight. They held Canada to but a handful of shots in the early stages of the game, and those that got through, Gashennikova knocked away. Eleven minutes into the first period, the score stood 0-0.
Hey, Russia was wearing red-white-and-blue uniforms. Team members had Nike swooshes on their chests and across their backs. They looked like a U.S. team. Maybe they had a chance.
Even in the Canadian-flag-waving crowd, people were admiring the underdogs' pluck. "This is Russia's first time in the Olympics?" a boy asked his dad.
"Yup," said the dad. "In women's hockey it is, yup."
Even after Canada scored (Wickenheiser broke the ice 11:37 in, then her linemate Danielle Goyette tallied six minutes later), Russia didn't quite wilt. Thanks largely to Gashennikova, the Russians' deficit was only 2-0 after one period, and in one of those tiny Olympic miracles, Canada briefly had a game on its hands. "That goalie gave them a little bit of a chance," said Team Canada captain Cassie Campbell.
By the third period Canada had pulled far away. Our neighbors from up north could work on a few things: They began bringing the puck up ice more sharply, passing more rapidly than they had done in the early going. All of these preliminary matches are merely conditioning stints for the gold-medal game against the U.S. that awaits Canada next week. "We can get better in a lot of ways," Sunohara said, "Yes, we had seven goals, but we also had 59 shots on goal. It looks to me as if we're not finishing enough."
Canada plays Sweden on Saturday, and if you want to set an early line, consider that Sweden squeaked by Russia 3-2 the other night. Meanwhile, Russia has a match against Kazakhstan, a truly experimental and noncompetitive team that Russia might well defeat. No matter who wins that one, though, the Russians will go home without a medal, an eventuality that did not deflate our dear, saddened Gashennikova.
"We wanted to win," she said in the runway. "But the main thing is, I love my team. No matter how much pressure I have on me, I love my team." Then she paused and added: "Because, you know, they are my team."
Sports Illustrated senior writer Kostya Kennedy is in Utah covering the Olympic women's hockey competition for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back regularly for more behind-the-scenes reports from Salt Lake City.