How did it get away? It’s hard to say. The Canadian women’s hockey team won their fourth-straight gold medal Thursday, scoring a power-play goal at 8 minutes and 10 seconds of overtime for a 3-2 win.
Team USA had a decisive 2-0 lead with 3½ minutes remaining. Its defense and goaltending had held strong throughout the game, but Canada finally scored, casting doubt on an assured American victory. Canada emptied its net to bring an extra attacker in a last-ditch effort. The Americans got a shot that trickled slowly down the ice and hit the post.
The Canadians tied it with 54.6 seconds remaining, setting up the first overtime in a women’s gold medal game. Team USA had golden chances in overtime to win its first gold medal since 1998. But their blank stares said it all as they received their silver medals.
Women’s hockey has long been dominated by the United States and Canada, who played today for gold for the fourth time in five Winter Games. Between them, the North American rivals have won every Olympics and every world championship, and only once has another team even reached the championship game.
Some have criticized women’s hockey for that dominance—the United States outshot Sweden 70-9 in a 6-1 victory in the semifinals. “I think for us, it was a great game,” said Swiss coach Rene Kammerer, who described himself as “happy to be disappointed” after only losing 3-1 to the Canadians in the semifinal. The Swiss beat Sweden for the bronze Thursday.
But for the women on the U.S. and Canadian squads Thursday, none of that came to mind. Defender Anne Schleper wrote Thursday on Twitter, it’s a “whole life’s worth of sacrifices & hardwork … piled up into one hockey game.”
This was Schleper’s first Olympics; she barely missed the cut in 2010. That summer, after her sophomore year at the University of Minnesota, she went to camp with Athletes in Action. There, she said, it took torn ligaments in both wrists plus injuries in both legs for God to slow her down. Schleper and her former Minnesota teammate Gigi Marvin are now the Bible study leaders for Team USA.
“Any time you get in the athletic environment, it’s challenging as a Christian. It’s easy to have an ‘it’s about me’ attitude,” she told Athletes in Action. “That’s why it’s important to be around other Christians who can lift you up and pray for you. … God is opening the eyes of teammates who I would never have thought would come. He’s building it into something bigger and better.”
That growing community on the team is important to Marvin. In her talk with Athletes in Action, Marvin says God uses “every single person” on the team to encourage her spiritually. “If we’re in a game, all I have to look is to my left or right, and my teammate’s there being like, ‘SIC,’” Marvin said. “It’s something we always say—‘Strength in Christ.’” Many of the players have verses on their sticks. Schleper has Ao1, for her Audience of One. “It’s amazing,” Marvin said. “If I’m burdened, sad, struggling, or want to rejoice, I have my teammates.”
Sad and struggling, indeed, Thursday. Schleper fanned on a golden, point-blank chance to win the game in overtime, setting up a breakaway for Canada and prompting the decisive penalty for Team USA. How the game got away won’t make sense for a long time.