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Opinion

For Canadian women's hockey, there really is no second place

Jae C. Hong / The Associated Press</p><p>Bailey Bram (17), of Canada, right, embraces Blayre Turnbull (40), of Canada, after losing to the United States in the women's gold medal hockey game at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Thursday.</p>

Jae C. Hong / The Associated Press

Bailey Bram (17), of Canada, right, embraces Blayre Turnbull (40), of Canada, after losing to the United States in the women's gold medal hockey game at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Thursday.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/2/2018 (541 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GANGNEUNG — They will award 102 silver medals — a record number — by the time they wrap up these 2018 Winter Olympics here Sunday night.

For the overwhelming majority of recipients, it will be one of the greatest days of their lives, a defining moment so monumental that for many it will form the first three words of their obituaries: “Olympic silver medallist…”

Then there will be the small handful for whom second place will have come as a disappointment, a painful reminder of the day they didn’t win silver so much as they lost gold.

And then there will be one final group, consisting of just one member, for whom the moment silver was draped around their necks will be the most painful thing that ever happens to them.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/2/2018 (541 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GANGNEUNG — They will award 102 silver medals — a record number — by the time they wrap up these 2018 Winter Olympics here Sunday night.

For the overwhelming majority of recipients, it will be one of the greatest days of their lives, a defining moment so monumental that for many it will form the first three words of their obituaries: "Olympic silver medallist…"

Then there will be the small handful for whom second place will have come as a disappointment, a painful reminder of the day they didn’t win silver so much as they lost gold.

And then there will be one final group, consisting of just one member, for whom the moment silver was draped around their necks will be the most painful thing that ever happens to them.

Canada’s women’s hockey team, welcome to your worst nightmare.

A run of 16 years and four consecutive Olympic gold medals came to an end here Thursday for Canada’s national women’s team in a fashion that will torture the women of this team for decades to come — a 3-2 shootout loss in the gold-medal final to the rival Americans.

Even by the lofty standards of the fiercest rivalry in hockey, this was one for the ages. Tied 2-2 after regulation. Tied 2-2 after a 20-minute overtime. And tied 2-2 after five shooters had gone for each team in the shootout.

In the end, the margin of difference between two teams who have been evenly matched for two decades was determined on this day in the sixth round of the shootout when Canada’s Meghan Agosta was stopped by U.S. goalie Maddie Rooney after Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson had scored for the Americans a moment earlier.

It was all as painful for Canada as it was karmic justice for an American team that endured agony of their own in Sochi when they surrendered a 2-1 lead to Canada in the final minute of that gold-medal game — and saw what would have been the game-winner hit the post of an open net — and then went on to lose 3-2 in overtime.

Now, you can argue, I suppose, that a shootout is a stupid way to determine an Olympic gold medal. But this is the Olympics, not Game of Thrones, and the networks would have frowned if these two teams had been allowed to simply play to the death, which would otherwise be the natural order of things in this rivalry.

And you can also argue, I suppose, that Canada was playing two different opponents in the gold-medal game: the Americans in blue and the referees in black and white, who called the first four penalties of the game on Canada and six altogether and seemed at times determined to play the role of equalizer as opposed to arbiter.

But in the end, those are sideshows. Because in the end, the only thing that truly matters in women’s hockey is who wins the gold-medal game at the Olympics.

And so with that, bragging rights in the women’s game moves south of the 49th parallel for the first time since 1998, when the Americans won the first-ever Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey in Nagano.

How did this one taste? Ste. Anne’s Jocelyne Larocque treated her silver medal like a virus, removing the medal from her neck moments after it had been hung there — and while she was still out on the ice and the medal ceremony was still ongoing.

That raised a few eyebrows, but Larocque, who previously won gold in Sochi as a blue-line stalwart for Team Canada, was making no apologies when she was asked about it afterward.

"It’s just hard," said Larocque. "We were going for gold."

Indeed, while this is the Olympics and they award medals for the top three finishers, it is the curse of playing for Team Canada in women’s hockey that there really is not even any second place.

Second place is simply assumed — and first place the only goal — when you play in a sport that Canada and the U.S. have dominated for a generation now, to the exclusion of everyone else. (Finland won bronze, if you care, which you shouldn’t.)

The final of every single one of the last 18 women’s world hockey championships has been played between Canada and the U.S.. And every Olympic gold-medal final — except for Torino in 2006 when Canada beat Sweden — has been a Canada-U.S. affair.

And so there is neither glory nor consolation to find yourself at the end of another gruelling quadrennial having to watch with tears in your eyes as your most hated rival — your only rival, really — celebrate on your sport’s biggest stage.

To say these Canadian women were gutted doesn’t begin to describe it.

"We came to these Games with only one goal — to win gold. And so to train so hard for four years for this exact moment and then to see it slip away like this, I can’t begin to tell you much much it sucks," said forward Bailey Bram, Team Canada’s other Ste. Anne native.

Bram, like most of her teammates, sobbed openly as she talked about whether someday, maybe, she might look back on her first trip to the Olympics with pride. "I hope so, but I don’t know.

"This moment is so hard right now. And it’s going to be hard for a long time. But there was so many great moments leading up to this and it’s all part of the journey and that’s why you play hockey.

"I have 22 sisters now. And I would do anything for any one of them."

Those teammates include Mallard’s Brigette Lacquette, who now has a silver medal to go along with the distinction of being the first Indigenous member of Canada’s women’s hockey team and one of just a handful of Indigenous people ever to represent Canada at the Olympics, summer or winter.

That’s a lot to be proud of — and one presumes there will come a time when she will be just that. "Maybe in time," Lacquette said hopefully.

But that time was not on Thursday when that silver medal was hanging around her neck like an anchor.

"Honestly, it’s just disappointing. It was a very close game and a very tough loss," said Lacquette.

My enduring moment of this game? It wasn’t Marie-Philip Poulin scoring her fifth goal in a gold-medal game to give Canada a 2-1 lead in the second period. It wasn’t Monique Lamoureux-Morando tying the game for the U.S. with just six minutes to play in the third period.

And it wasn’t Canadian netminder Shannon Szabados standing on her head all game long, turning back 39 of 41 shots in a game the U.S. dominated for the entire third period and all of the overtime.

No, my enduring moment came before the game even began.

The Canadian women’s team has a uniquely Canadian of traditions — they clean up after themselves following the pre-game warmup, gathering up all their pucks into a bucket and then returning that bucket to arena staff.

The Americans don’t do this — they just leave the pucks behind for someone else to clean up, which is, well, so American. Ditto the Russian women’s team, whom Canada defeated in the semifinal. And, also, every men’s team I’ve ever covered, who I’m sure would say ‘What pucks?’ if you asked them about it.

And so I wondered on Thursday whether in a moment this team had spent working four years toward, if they might let someone else do the tidying just this once?

But no, there they were as the pregame warmup came to a close, five of them like little kids on hands and knees in their own net, scooping up those pregame pucks into that bucket and leaving their side of the ice spotless.

Sure, you can take the gold out of Canada — after a long hard fight, mind you. But you will never take the Canada out of these Canadians.

email: paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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History

Updated on Thursday, February 22, 2018 at 1:59 PM CST: Corrects spelling of Marie-Philip Poulin

11:39 PM: relates story

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