GANGNEUNG, South Korea – The messages poured in a group chat titled “Olympians.”
Gretchen Ulion: Finish!!!
Katie King: Yes!!!
Tara Mounsey: Holy moly
Sue Merz: Yyyyaasaaaaaaassssss!!!!
Mounsey: I feel like I just stayed up all night trying to study
Ulion: Yeah and I’m so wired now, I don’t see sleep coming soon!
Mounsey: Good night my special friends!!!!
Shelley Looney: Very happy and proud of them. Enjoyed watching the game with you all. Don’t forget you all were and will always be the first. Paving the way for them. Love you all
Members of the 1998 U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team, scattered across the country (and in South Korea), texted back and forth throughout the PyeongChang Olympic women’s hockey final, won 3-2 by the Americans over Canada in a shootout on Thursday.
It’s the U.S.’ first Olympic hockey title since 1998, which were the first Olympics with women’s hockey. The connection to 1998 ran deep with this team (read on), but let’s start with the highlights of the first Olympic final shootout since the Swedish and Canadian men in 1994.
Hilary Knight and Monique Lamoureux-Morando scored the U.S. regulation goals. They are two of the six players on the team who also played on the 2010 and 2014 squads that lost to Canada in gold-medal games.
Lamoureux-Morando’s twin sister, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, another one of those six veterans, potted the shootout winner on a deke she named “Oops, I did it again.”
In a rivalry and a game so dramatic, the twins’ starring roles were like something out of a script, too.
They were the only two U.S. skaters who didn’t play a minute of the team’s pre-Olympic tournament in November. As the U.S. added three skaters to its national team that month, putting them three over the Olympic roster size, there was concern one or both twins could be cut.
“It was obviously a really tough time, but tough times make you who you are,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “We knew we were going to find a way to be on this team. We knew we were going to make a difference.”
Goalie Maddie Rooney stopped four of six Canadian shootout attempts in her first Olympic or world championship final.
Rooney was born seven months before the 1998 Olympics. In high school, she started for her Minnesota high school girls team, then joined the boys team as a senior. While so many teammates look up to Cammi Granato, Rooney said that current captain Meghan Duggan is her role model.
Granato. She was part of this, too.
The 1998 captain video conferenced with the players after Monday’s semifinal win over Finland. GM Reagan Carey surprised the players before their last team meeting.
“Given, obviously, the anniversary here of the ‘98 team and just how integral she’s been from a leadership standpoint in the lives of so many of our players, I wanted to have a quick touch point,” Carey said.
Granato watched the tournament from her family home in Vancouver.
“I told them I don’t have anything magical to tell them,” Granato said. “I just wanted to wish them luck.”
She said more than that.
Do your role. Be ready for anything. If Canada scores early (they were up 2-1 with seven minutes left), just stay in it and have confidence in your preparation.
Granato felt more emotionally invested in this Olympics than the previous two.
Maybe it’s because she met the entire national team in August in Oregon. It was the first time many of the players had seen Granato in person. Many got her autograph. Some cried.
Maybe it’s because her brother coached the men’s team.
Maybe it’s because this team did what hers could not – successfully fight for fair pay – in nearly boycotting the world championship last spring.
The players’ new contract includes maternity leave, which could allow the Lamoureux twins to return for a fourth Olympics in 2022. Both plan to start families with their husbands, meaning this final could have been their last game in red, white and blue.
Back in the summer, when Granato surprised the players, they peppered her with questions on how to win an Olympic gold medal.
Granato obliged, but she also told them what the U.S. team did wrong in 2002, when it went 31-0 on a pre-Olympic tour (including eight wins over Canada) but lost the Olympic final 5-2.
In 2014, the U.S. won four straight over Canada leading up to the Olympics (after Canada’s head coach shockingly resigned in December 2013). Then Canada won both games in Sochi, including that epic final, scoring twice in the last four minutes of regulation and then in overtime.
This season, Canada carried a five-game winning streak over the U.S. into Thursday’s final.
“If you want something too badly, sometimes you squeeze it too tight, and you can’t perform,” Granato said. “We were so dominant in 2002, but we pretty much wanted it so badly that we were choking it.”
Carey said that calling on Granato one more time before the final was not to fill any hole for lack of motivation or inspiration. She simply wanted the team to reconnect with the role model who help start them on this journey, both with her play in 1998 and with her appearance in Oregon in August.
“We had great role models in 1998,” the 20-year-old Rooney said, “and to do it with this group, this was the group to do it.”