- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah U.S. defender Angela Ruggiero took two years off from Harvard for one game.
This isn't what she had in mind.
In a reprise of the fiercest, most intense and gulp hardest-hitting rivalry in the sport, the U.S. women's hockey team failed in its quest to capture a second consecutive Olympic championship, falling to Canada 3-2 in the gold medal match last night at the E Center.
Hayley Wickenheiser, Caroline Ouellette and Jayna Hefford all scored and Kim St-Pierre had 25 saves for Team Canada, which earned its first gold medal in the sport.
The Canadians also extracted a measure of revenge for an upset loss to Team USA in the final at the 1998 Nagano Games, the first Olympics to feature women's hockey.
"We've been waiting for this for a long time," Wickenhieser said. "It's real sweet."
The Americans, by contrast, were left to ponder what if. Team USA entered the evening on a 35-match winning streak eight of those against Team Canada and was mildly favored to extend its run, particularly on home ice.
Moreover, the Americans weren't lacking for motivation. Since losing to Canada in last year's world title game, they've waited anxiously for an Olympic rematch.
Ruggiero, a Harvard junior, took a leave from school in the spring of 2000 to play and train with the current squad, which has been together for two years.
"Anytime you don't reach what you set out to do it's disappointing," said U.S. forward Cammi Granato. "I've been with this particular team for two years. We did everything we could to prepare."
Against a Canadian squad featuring the tournament's best penalty kill, Team USA was undone by missed opportunities 2-on-1s gone wrong, tentative power plays, one-timers that never materialized.
The Americans led the Canadians in man-advantage minutes by more than a 2-1 margin but could only muster two power play goals.
The most frustrating coulda-shoulda-woulda? With Team USA trailing 2-1 early in the second period, Ruggiero camped on the right post, took a pass from forward Krissy Wendell and fired a shot past the sprawling St-Pierre.
The puck skidded across the goal line, hit the right post and bounced away harmlessly.
"Canada did a great job on our power play," said U.S. forward Shelley Looney. "But we still got the shots on the net, and the rebounds were there. We just missed them."
The near-miss proved costly at the end of the period, as forward Hefford caught the American defense in a mix-up, broke free in front of goal and fired a shot past U.S. goalie Sara DeCosta that settled into the net with just a second remaining.
The goal gave Canada a 3-1 lead and left Team USA stunned much to the delight of Canadian pairs skaters and cause celebres Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who were watching from an above-ice box.
"[Sale and Pelletier] came to talk to us this morning," said Canadian defender Therese Brisson. "They said, 'it's not about this medal. It's about having your best performance when it counts.'"
American forward Karin Bye scored on a beautiful one-timer from defender Tara Mounsey to make it 3-2 with less than four minutes to go, but the Americans were unable to get any closer.
That the two squads met in the final surprised absolutely no one. The Americans and Canadians have dominated women's hockey since the inaugural world championship in 1990, facing off in the final of every major international tournament they've competed in.
The rivalry's heated and sometimes physical nature was apparent from the start. Three roughing and two checking penalties were called, including a brutal elbow from Ouellette to the back of American forward Julie Chu's head.
During a first-period scrum in front of St-Pierre, Canadian defender Colleen Sostorics ended up on Granato's back, driving the American forward into the ice.
Less than two minutes into the match, Canadian forward Cherie Piper looped around goal and flipped the puck to linemate Ouellette, who tipped in a shot past DeCosta to give Canada a 1-0 lead.
Meanwhile, the United States struggled on offense, unable to capitalize on a brief 5-on-3 power play. Three times in the period, Granato who entered the game tied for first in tournament points botched potential one-time or rebound shots near the left post.
U.S. forward Katie King evened the game early in the second period, redirecting a Mounsey slap shot. But Canada replied just two minutes later, when Wickenheiser wristed a long rebound over the staggered DeCosta.
"It's difficult," Chu said. "Heading into this, you have a goal that your flag will end up flying higher than the rest."



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