- The United States women’s hockey team and men’s curling team both prevailed as underdogs against their Canadian opponents on Thursday.
- For the U.S. women’s hockey team, the win was redemption after falling to Canada in the past two gold medal games at the Olympics, and earned the team its first gold since 1998.
- In curling, Team Shuster won to earn American men’s curling a trip to the gold medal game for the first time in Olympic history, taking down three-time defending gold medalists Canada in the process.
The United States had gotten off to a rough start at the Winter Olympics.
With a few athletes who looked set to become breakout stars falling short of expectations, and an absolutely gut-wrenching number of fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-place finishes, the US delegation was on pace for its worst medal performance in two decades.
But despite that struggle, the U.S. women’s hockey and men’s curling teams made history late Wednesday night, giving the stars and stripes the best six-hour stretch of sport in recent memory, and destroying Canada in the process.
The drama started with the gold medal game of women’s hockey— the United States were facing off against Canada for the third consecutive Olympic final, having dropped the previous two in heartbreaking fashion.
Late in the game, it looked like the Americans were set for a disappointing finish yet again. Canadian legend and American arch-villain Marie-Philip Poulin had been an absolute nightmare in previous gold medal games, dashing the U.S. championship hopes at Sochi 2014 almost single-handedly.
After Poulin scored to put Canada up 2-1, it felt for a moment that history was set to repeat itself yet again.
But with just six minutes left, Monique Lamoureux broke free during a poor shift change from Canada and was able to find an equalizer, forcing overtime. After an extra period filled with tense moments but no goals, the game went to a shootout.
The teams remained tied through five shots apiece, until Jocelyne Lamoureux finally set the Americans ahead with a nasty piece of stickwork she had dubbed the “Oops, I did it again.” American netminder Maddie Rooney, who had been phenomenal all game, made one final stop to secure gold for the United States.
American sports fans would get just a few hours of sleep before their next match against Canada, this time in men’s curling.
Team Shuster had already had a miracle run at the Winter Games for the United States. After falling to 2-4 in round robin play, the team rattled off three consecutive wins against some of the top teams in the field to sneak into the semifinals, the first time the U.S. had made it to the second stage of competition since 2006.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, John Shuster and his team hit the ice against three-time defending gold medalist and tournament favorites Canada for a spot in the gold medal game. It was a back-and-forth match, with both teams playing sharp and keeping scores low.
The breaking point came in the eighth end. With the game knotted at 2-2, Canadian skip Kevin Koe came up short on his final shot, allowing the Americans to steal two and take a solid lead into the final ends of the game.
After holding Canada to just one point in the ninth, Shuster had the decisive last shot — the hammer — in the final frame, with a chance to seal the victory for the United States.
Koe had nailed the button with his final shot, forcing Shuster to place a perfect hit on his opponents rock to seal the win for the Americans. It’s not a particularly difficult shot to make, but with the game, and with it the United States’ shot at a gold medal on the line, nothing is easy in a sport already decided by fractions of an inch.
Shuster rose to the occasion, sending down a shot so perfect the American team could start celebrating while it was still sliding down the ice.
Coming into the tournament, the United States had never beaten the Canadian men in Olympic play. This year, Team Shuster took them down twice, and with it earned the U.S. its first ever trip to the gold medal game.
Americans love cheering for an underdog. It’s an empathy for the little guy that likely goes as far back in our history as the Revolutionary War, and has since been sustained by “Rocky” films and the like, yet in the modern world of sports it’s rare that the Americans get to take on the role of underdog so assuredly.
But in the twilight hours of Wednesday night into Thursday morning, there was no doubt that the Americans were underdogs to their neighbors to the north, and both teams rose to the occasion in thrilling fashion.
With the women’s win in hockey, they exorcised the demons of Olympics’ past to take gold for the first time since 1998. And for Team Shuster, beating Canada secured the American men’s highest finish ever in curling, and put them just one win away from the gold medal.
It was an enthralling six hours to be an American sports fan.