Not like that. Please, don’t say the U.S. women’s hockey team lost a gold medal, against Canada, like that.
If the men f0llow suit Friday, that’s too much heartbreak to handle.
For the U.S. women’s hockey team, this date was long circled on the calendar: Feb. 20, Sochi, the gold medal game of the Winter Olympics. The players knew darn well who they’d be facing: arch-rival Canada. Since women’s hockey first appeared on the Olympic program, in 1998, the U.S. and Canada had met in every gold medal game save one; in 2006, the Swedes upset the Americans in the semis. The U.S. won gold in ’98. Canada had swept the rest.
The rivals brawled in pre-Olympic tune-up games. They played a tight opening round game in Sochi, which Canada pulled out, 3-2. One American player, Kacey Bellamy, told TIME back in November that as part of her visualization plan, she pictured her team beating the Canadians every night before bed. “It’s a little nuts, I know,” she says.
Nuts? In 54.6 seconds, all lunacy would have paid off. The U.S. held that 2-0 advantage until Canada scored with under four minutes left in the game, off a shot that deflected off of Bellamy’s knee. Then, with just under a minute to go, Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin threw a knife at the Americans: she shot a rebound past Team USA goaltender Jessie Vetter to tie the game. In sudden death, a Team USA cross-checking penalty gave the Canadians a 4-on-3 advantage. They conducted a passing clinic, until Poulin, who also scored a couple of goals in the 2010 final, put in the game-winner.
The Canadian women carried late-game momentum into overtime, and won it all. The American men couldn’t pull this off the last time they faced Canada in the Olympics, in the final of the 2010 Vancouver Games. Remember that classic? Team USA’s Zach Parise scored a game-tying goal with 24 seconds left, shocking the delirious hometown crowd. But Sidney Crosby saved Canada. In overtime, he scored the game-winner, off a sweet pass from Jarome Iginla.
Now, the U.S. and Canada meet again, at noon EST Friday, in the Sochi semifinals. Back in Vancouver, the Canadians had to win, and delivered: just ask Team Russia, which bowed out in this year’s quarterfinals and sent a nation into mourning, about suffocating host-country pressure. This time around, the Americans are facing a bit more stress than usual, thanks to skyrocketing expectations. At times, they’ve looked dominant in Sochi. While Canada snuck by an inferior opponent in the quarters, beating Lativa 2-1, Team USA smoked the Czech Republic, 5-2. USA men’s hockey hasn’t won a Olympic medal outside North American soil since 1956.
But at this point, a bronze would be a bummer. Or even a silver.
Just ask the ladies.