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U.S. Women Come Back to Beat Canada

By Rachel Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 15, 1998; Page D1

NAGANO, Feb. 14 — In a quick scan of the day's Olympic results, the United States women's ice hockey team's 7-4 victory over Canada looks like an easy blowout. Considering that both teams already had clinched spots in Tuesday's gold medal game before the puck even dropped, it even appears casual and meaningless.

Hardly.

"It was a huge game, the biggest game of our lives to this point," U.S. defenseman Angela Ruggiero said. "Definitely, the adrenaline was pumping."

The evening began with 40 minutes of gritty, punishing hockey that resulted in a 1-1 stalemate going into the third period. Then Canada went on a three-goal scoring rush that seemed to lock up the game. But in the final 10 minutes of play, the United States stormed back with six unanswered goals, capturing the win and a collective gasp from the over-packed crowd of 5,872 at Aqua Wing arena.

Hard hits and hard goals were the order of the day, and the bad blood between these teams for more than a year erupted after the final buzzer. Following the traditional postgame handshakes, a series of words were exchanged between three players and Canada Coach Shannon Miller.

In a television interview, Miller said the ruckus started when an American player whom she didn't identify made a disparaging comment to Canadian forward Danielle Goyette about her father, who died of Alzheimer's disease just before the Olympics. Goyette started crying, Miller said.

Observers in the stands could not hear what was said, although U.S. forward Sandra Whyte was seen wagging her finger toward the Canadians. Goyette then skated toward Whyte, and the two had to be separated. Goyette then got into an argument with U.S. forward Shelly Looney. Later, as the players were leaving the ice, Miller pulled U.S. captain Cammi Granato aside for a brief chat.

"She was talking about how things got heated up after the game," Granato said when asked about Miller's comments. Granato did not, however, believe that a teammate would have taunted Goyette about her father.

"I think [Goyette] misunderstood a situation," Granato said. "Our players would never say anything like that. She speaks French, we speak English, so I don't know if there was a misinterpretation."

U.S. Coach Ben Smith also dismissed the idea that such a comment was made, noting that his team sent a card, signed by each player, to Goyette after her father died. "I trust my players," he said. Both Whyte and Goyette declined to comment on the incident.

Miller, known as a passionate coach, did some rough talking of her own earlier in the game when she screamed an obscenity at Smith through the glass separating the teams' benches. The comment seemed like a carryover of the rough play on the ice; in the first 40 minutes of play, teams combined for 36 penalty minutes.

Attention then shifted from the penalty box to the scoreboard in the first six minutes of the third period, when Canada reeled off three goals — two in 30 seconds — to take a 4-1 lead that appeared insurmountable. Miller apparently felt so secure that after the fourth goal, a television camera caught her laughing on the bench.

But with just more than minutes to go, U.S. forward Laurie Baker scored. Three minutes later, Granato scored. Two minutes later, Jenny Schmidgall scored. Before the Canadians could discern what had happened to them, the score was tied.

Then, 23 seconds after Schmidgall's goal, Tricia Dunn scored what became the game winner. In the final three minutes, Lisa Brown-Miller and Baker added goals for padding.

"When we went ahead 4-1, we thought, 'We have 10 minutes left, no problem here,'" Canada forward Lori Dupuis said. "We really had to keep them under pressure and instead we were sitting on the lead, and we shouldn't be doing that. We were a little panicky.

"We have to make sure that if we're in this situation again, we respond. We think we will because Canada's not going to give up the gold medal that easily. We don't want to hear the American anthem playing, that's for sure."

A 13-game exhibition series between these two teams leading up to the Olympics — which Canada won, 7-6 — has fueled this rivalry to the boiling point. Today, it was clear that pride was on the line, even if a medal wasn't.

"This could be the greatest rivalry in hockey," Canada forward Hayley Wickenheiser said. As for the rough play, she said, "It's part of the game. You get shots, you get hits, you get sticked and cut. It's what this game is about — whoever survives."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post

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