Heartbroken U.S. hockey not blaming refs after loss

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SOCHI, Russia – If anyone had a right to feel robbed, it was Julie Chu. By the referee. By the post. By the kind of dumb hockey luck that so often decides games. For American fans who thought they were upset by what happened in the women’s gold-medal game, consider Chu’s journey to that point.

Three times the 31-year-old had been to the Olympics before these Games, and three times she’d failed to win gold, coming away with two silvers and a bronze instead. Thursday evening at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, with her United States team leading 2-0, with the clock winding down, with Canada appearing out of answers, surely her fourth, and likely final, try would be the one.

VIDEO: Watch the shot that hit the post

It wasn’t. Canada scored twice before the end of regulation, then won its fourth straight gold medal on a controversial power play in overtime.

“I think it’s hard for all of us,” said Chu. “Our mentality, and my mentality, has been about the last four years. This team, and this process that we’ve been through. We wanted to win a gold medal today.”

How did it come so close to happening, only for everything to go so wrong in the end?

“We battled hard,” she said. “We put a lot of pressure on them. We had some good chances. Even a little puck off the post.”

VIDEO: How did the game get to OT?

Chu was, of course, referring to the post teammate Kelli Stack hit late in the game with the Canadian net empty. At the time, the U.S. was up 2-1. Just a few inches to the right and she would’ve had her gold medal.

As for the officiating? Like, say, the questionable crosschecking call on Hilary Knight in overtime that led to the game-winner?

“I think it was pretty even both ways,” Chu said. “Whatever calls were called or weren’t called, it went both ways. There’s not much we can say.”

Instead, she preferred to talk about her teammates, and how proud she was of them.

As did captain Meghan Duggan.

VIDEO: Meghan Duggan explains where it went wrong for U.S.

“I’m proud to be American today,” said Duggan. “I’m proud of the girls, and the game that we put forth. We’ll appreciate these silver medals and head back home and join our families.”

What did she think of the officiating?

“You can’t control it,” she said. “It’s one of those things that you have absolutely no control over. You can talk to the refs, why they made certain calls, why things happened.

“But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to play. We took a lot of penalties, they got a lot of penalties called on them. I’m never going to blame a game on officiating. It comes down to putting the puck in the net, and they got one more than us tonight.”

If only Twitter were so gracious.

Meanwhile, America’s heartbreak was Canada’s joy.

“I think I’m in shock, really, that it worked out in our favor,” said Hayley Wickenheiser, now a four-time gold medalist. “We battled so hard, and we never gave up, and we just put everything on the line to get the job done.  We had a lot of composure and experience to pull through in the end when we needed to, and to stay in the moment.”

Despite being the three-time defending gold medalists, Canada did not come into the Olympics looking like it. The team’s coach, Dan Church, had curiously resigned in December, replaced by Kevin Dineen, recently fired by the Florida Panthers and with no experience in the women’s game. Then, in January, Dineen made the eyebrow-raising decision to give the captaincy to Caroline Ouellette, taking it away from Wickenheiser, who was not pleased.

Of her four gold medals, Wickenheiser called this one the hardest to win.

“If people knew what this team had gone through, they would probably make a movie,” she said. “It’s been an unbelievable year.”

Capped off by an unbelievable game.

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Credit: AP

Lindsey Vonn wins 78th World Cup race (video)

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Lindsey Vonn‘s latest comeback victory, one that reinvigorated her Olympic medal hopes, came at the venue where her Olympic bid died four years ago.

Vonn overcame early season back and knee troubles to win her 78th World Cup race — and first in nearly 11 months — a super-G in Val d’Isere, France on Saturday. NBCSN will air coverage at 5 p.m. ET.

“I guess I’m not a washed-up old hag,” Vonn said, according to the U.S. Ski Team. “I think I proved myself, and karma definitely comes back around. I’ve got some good karma coming my way.”

She prevailed by .31 of a second over Italian Sofia Goggia and .39 over Norwegian Ragnhild Mowinckel. Vonn has won World Cups here six times before, earning cows as prizes.

Vonn put in a scare, nearly skiing out at the bottom of the course, but let out her usual victory screams in the finish area and grabbed a TV camera, repeating, “Yes!”

Full Results

Vonn is now eight victories shy of the record she covets — retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s 86 career World Cup wins. She has said she hopes to break the record by the end of next season, after which she may retire.

First, her Olympic return in PyeongChang, four years after missing Sochi. The final straw came at this French resort in December 2013, where Vonn skied out with MCL and joint damage on top of a previous ACL tear.

Vonn’s PyeongChang medal hopes rode a roller coaster the last year.

A broken arm in a Nov. 10, 2016 crash. A win in her second race back in January, plus podiums at the world championships and at the Olympic venue in February and March.

Then a crash and a fall in two of her first three speed races this season. And last Saturday’s back injury and the images of being helped to walk with supporting poles in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

She withdrew from Sunday’s race — which was eventually canceled due to weather — flew to Austria and received therapy.

“It was mentally challenging to overcome that and be able to trust myself and push myself, even though I’m maybe not moving as well as I normally do,” Vonn said, adding that her back loosened up Saturday after the first few gates. “That’s been the biggest thing the last few weeks is just keep going, keep fighting, keep trying, keep picking yourself back up.

“I knew that the results would come eventually, but the important thing was just to continue to be tough.”

Vonn’s dad was waiting for her in his first visit to Val d’Isere.

“It was really cute when he was crying in the finish,” she said.

There was reason to doubt Vonn at age 33, given her extensive injury history. Only one woman has won a World Cup race at a more advanced age — Austrian Elisabeth Goergl in 2014.

Now, she has two months to stay healthy before the Olympic speed races, where she is a medal favorite in the downhill and super-G.

“I’m back on track,” she said. “[This win] proves what I already knew, that my skiing is good.”

First up is another World Cup super-G in Val d’Isere on Sunday (4:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

World Cup overall leader Mikaela Shiffrin is skipping this weekend’s races to prepare for upcoming slaloms and giant slaloms.

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Val d’Isere Super-G
1. Lindsey Vonn (USA) — 1:04.86
2. Sofia Goggia (ITA) — +.31
3. Ragnhild Mowinckel (NOR) — +.39
8. Laurenne Ross (USA) — +.97
22. Alice McKennis (USA) — +1.62
24. Alice Merryweather (USA) — +2.03
34. Stacey Cook (USA) — +2.63
38. Breezy Johnson (USA) — +2.86
45. Julia Mancuso (USA) — +5.56
DNF. Jackie Wiles (USA)

Canada beats U.S. for third straight time in hockey rivalry

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Haley Irwin and Sarah Nurse scored in the second period, sending Canada to a 3-1 win over the U.S. in the penultimate Olympic tuneup between the world powers in women’s hockey on Friday night.

Marie-Philip Poulin also scored for Canada, and Ann-Renee Desbiens made 25 saves.

Brianna Decker opened the scoring for the U.S. with a power-play goal early in the second. Alex Rigsby stopped 33 shots in defeat.

Poulin made it 3-1 with her goal 55 seconds into the third.

“I’m really happy with our process and where we are at as our team continues to grow,” Canada coach Laura Schuler said. “Also happy with our girls and their buy-in with what we’re trying to accomplish.”

It was the seventh of eight meetings between the rivals — and Canada’s third straight win — as they prepare for PyeongChang. They play again Sunday night in Edmonton, Alberta.

Canada leads the series 4-3.

“We just have to be better in the red zones — that’s the difference between winning and losing,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said. “We’ll give some focus and energy to some things we think we can do better, and we’re going to go into Edmonton and see what that end result looks like.”

The last four Olympic gold medals in women’s hockey have gone to Canada, but the U.S. has won seven of the past eight world championships.

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