Thursday, February 20, 2014

Canada, USA women show the Olympic bosses just what they may miss...

By any measure of a sporting contest, Thursday's Gold medal battle between Canada and the USA had everything a fan of hockey, or any other sport for that matter, could hope for.

A fast paced and physical match up between two teams that have become so familiar with each other over the last decade, that just asking to pass the salt at the dining room could be the kind of thing to raise emotions and rekindle past grievances.

Thursday in Sochi, both teams put on a clinic of heart, determination, skill, some luck and in the true spirit of the Olympics, officiating that at times veered off the scale of weirdness.

The Gold Medal Game for Women's Hockey was a match that lived up to and excelled beyond any pre-game hype that had been allocated to it, sixty minutes of regular time and a nail biting spell of OT, that covered as much emotional territory as a hockey game could.

While the first two periods had their own thrills, with the American squad finding the scoring range and playing with confidence with every shift, it was the third period that provided for the drama with momentum shifts seemingly with every line change, or rush up the ice.

A Canadian comeback that started with less than four minutes remaining in the period, Brianne Jenner's goal gave the Canadians some hope, a feeling that was nearly dashed shortly after as the Americans fired off a shot that bounced off the goal post of an empty Canadian net.

A shot, which had it registered as a goal would have provided for one of the great controversies for the Olympic ages, a linesman having stumbled into a Canadian at the blue line, almost a perfect pick play for the USA which allowed for the oh, that was so close, shot to bounce off the post and providing instant celebrity for Canada Post through twitter.

Having dodged what surely would have been a finishing touch for the USA, Canada was back on the attack, taking the play to the US end of the rink, where Marie-Phillip Poulin's marker in the last minute of play, gave Canadians the chance to scream in delight at their Television sets from coast to coast to coast.

The game tied at 2-2 suddenly shifting again, the ice seeming faster for the Canadians, the Americans showing the strain of sixty minutes of hockey and a lost lead, leaving for the Overtime.

Again officiating would offer up some bizarre moments in the extra frame, with both Canada and the USA being assessed calls that left their respective benches gritting their teeth and hoping that the penalty kill could find success for just one more shift.

The final penalty call, a mysterious cross checking penalty on Hilary Knight set the scene for the final moments, though for most, the correct call should perhaps have been a penalty shot award.

Regardless, for Canada having the extra player advantage in a pivotal moment of the game had its benefits, the Canadians set up in the US end and in a flurry of action the history making goal again belonged to Mademoiselle Phillip-Poulin, her gold medal winning marker escaping the reach of the USA's Jessie Vetter, delivering Canada a 3-2 victory and the defence of their Vancouver Olympic medal victory.

The images of the post game indicative of the pressure and importance of the game to both teams, a
jubilant Canadian squad receiving their gold medals with joy and maybe a bit of relief. The Americans accepting their slivers, though by their eyes you understand that you never really win silver in hockey, you miss out on the gold.

Regardless of the colour of the medal, both teams should be hailed for their play, making the wrap up to the Women's Medal round yet another moment of these Olympics, that will be talked about long after the Russians clear out the Sochi sporting sites.

Through the Olympic tournament, the whispers have grown a little louder that the IOC was still giving thought to banish the Women's tournament owing to the domination of the sport by the North Americans.

A curious suggestion from an International body dedicated to growing sport, particularly one which is slowly but surely showing some strides on the European side of the ocean and while yes, the difference between Bronze and the top two finishers may still be rather wide, tarnishing that Bronze medal earned by a Swiss team that battled for their own victory with talk of eliminating the sport serves no purpose.

By comparison, the Netherlands regularly steam roll almost all competitors in speed skating, yet every four years the remainder of the world that celebrates these winter games arrives with skates in hand ready to offer the challenge.

Same with skiing competitions, the domain of the Alpine nations, yet the dream to knock those teams off that gold medal platform continues, no one asks that the sport be eliminated.

The simple fact is, that competition drives the will to succeed, losses become lessons, the standard of success the goal that all the teams at Sochi strive to find.

In 2014, the Canadians and Americans set the standard in Women's hockey, in four years time with a determined focus on improvement and development of the game in Europe and elsewhere, challengers will come and the Tournament will grow even stronger.

Thursday's dramatic finish and burst of emotion that fuelled the third period and overtime is the kind of thing that the Olympics should provide, the best in their field leaving everything they had in the arena.

The idea of the IOC banishing a sport that shows such promise, and offers up such a finish to a tournament, surely seemed a rather folly thought as Friday arrived in Sochi.

Reviews of the Gold Medal Game can be found below:

February 20-- Poulin, Wickenheiser and Johnston lead Canada's gold medal scoring chance charge
February 20-- Canada, U. S. take women's hockey rivalry to new heights
February 20-- Team Canada's Edmonton-area relatives elated about gold medal win
February 20-- Canada's golden generation in women's hockey pulls it off one more time
February 20-- Canada's gold medal in women's hockey bittersweet for coach that resigned in December
February 20-- Canadian women's team pulls off most sensational Olympic hockey victory ever for this country
February 20-- Canadian women's hockey team wins Olympic gold with stunning comeback
February 20-- Canada's golden day hard to beat
February 20-- Canada beats USA in overtime for Olympic women's hockey gold in game for the ages
February 20-- Olympic celebration breaks out on Bob Elliot's flight to Vancouver
February 20-- Canadian women's hockey coach Kevin Dineen wins gold medal after taking job in November
February 20-- Canada completes stunning gold-medal comeback

February 20-- Marie-Philip Polin's power play goal in OT gives gold to Canada
February 20-- Team Canada tops Team USA 3-2 in overtime for Olympic women's hockey medal
February 20-- Canada women snatch gold from USA with big rally
February 20-- Hilary Knight: OT penalty in U. S. Olympic Hockey Loss a "Bogus call"
February 20-- Canada Stuns United States 3-2 in overtime for fourth straight gold medal
February 20-- "We didn't finish the job": American women suffer agonizing hockey loss
February 20-- U. S. Women fall in OT to Canada in Olympic hockey gold-medal heartbreaker
February 20-- Canada women beat US 3-2 in OT for Olympic Gold
February 20-- U. S. Women's Olympic Hockey Team Can't Grab Gold in Heartbreaking loss

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