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.
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.”
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.
“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.