Four years is a long time to wait for a second chance. For some, the chance for golden redemption has been much longer.
The United States women’s hockey team has not won Olympic gold since the sport was added to the games in 1998. The Americans have since watched their biggest rival — Canada — take home four straight gold medals.
The drought has hurt most since 2014, when the Americans blew a 2-0 lead in the gold medal game and had the puck clank off the post, just missing an empty-net goal before Canada tied it with 54.6 seconds left in regulation. Marie-Philip Poulin scored again for a 3-2 overtime win , keeping the gold medal with the country that created the sport.
“Not everyone was there in Sochi,” U.S. forward Hilary Knight said. “We’ve got players who suffered that heartbreak once, maybe twice, and we’ve got players who’ve never felt that. They’re going to play fearless and on their toes regardless. I think all of us are there to win.”
NBCOlympics.com: Women’s hockey play begins Feb. 10 (stream url)
The Americans have won four straight world championships, the last in overtime last April in Michigan . Yet Canada just doesn’t lose in the Olympics . The world’s dominant hockey powers meet in pool play Feb. 15 in a game scheduled so North America can watch at 10:10 p.m. EST on Feb. 14. If the Pyeongchang Games go as four of the past five Olympics have, they will meet again Feb. 22 with gold at stake once more.
“We’ve come up short the last two Olympics, and our ultimate goal is just play our best,” said American Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, a two-time silver medalist. “If we can do that, we truly believe we can come out on top.”
Things to know about women’s hockey at the Pyeongchang Games:
Since winning it all in 1998 in Nagano, settling for silver — and bronze, in 2006 — has been a source of angst for the United States. Katie Crowley was on that inaugural U.S. team and said the drought has been surprising considering the quality of players dressing for the Americans. Crowley, now coach at Boston College, said if she had the answer to what went wrong she’d have three gold medals herself. Now she says it’s up to the current roster.
“Hopefully, they can do something about it,” Crowley said.
NBCOlympics.com: An oral history of Team USA’s ’98 gold
The Americans and Canadians played eight games during the fall. The United States won three of the first four, including two to take their third straight Four Nations Cup title . But Canada and coach Laura Schuler were experimenting with a roster of 28 then. Canada won the final four games, with two decided in overtime and one a shutout. And Canada has named Poulin captain for these games.
“It’s a good benchmark to see how we’re progressing,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said. “It’s extremely tough competition, and I suspect they feel the same.”
Said Schuler: “Every time we play them, we learn what we’re good at. And we learn where we need to continue to improve.”
The edge in net goes to Canada: goaltender Shannon Szabados is going for her third gold and Genevieve Lacasse won her first in 2014. Lacasse also had the only shutout during the US-Canada exhibition tour.
“Shannon brings a calmness to our team, for sure,” Schuler said. “She’s a big physical presence in the net, and obviously has a great history.”
The Americans are bringing a trio of goalies making their Olympic debuts in Alex Rigsby, Nicole Hensley and Maddie Rooney. Stauber played goalie himself and was the goaltender coach before being named head coach last May.
“We have trust in every single one of them, no matter who’s in net,” said defenseman Kacey Bellamy, a two-time silver medalist.
NBCOlympics.com: Hilary Knight on USA — ‘We really need a gold’
NORTH AMERICAN UPSET?
Canada has won 20 straight Olympic games since losing gold in Nagano. The United States is the top-ranked team in the world — with Canada a close second — while the rest of the world works to close the gap . Finland is No. 3 after beating Canada 4-3 in April in the preliminary round at the 2017 world championships.
South Korea coach Sarah Murray may have the biggest challenge with officials adding 12 North Korean athletes to her team in late January for Korea’s first combined team since 1991. Although the country has had little women’s hockey success, the South Koreans are ranked 22nd in the world and hope to ride home-ice advantage to a victory — any victory — in the preliminary round. Korea is in Group B with Sweden, Switzerland and Japan. The Koreans help open pool play Feb. 10 against Switzerland — sixth in the world.