2014 Olympic meltdown still burns for U.S. women

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — Watching the end of the gold medal women’s ice hockey game at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics felt like helplessly standing by as the blood ran out of the victim of a traffic accident.

Overly dramatic? Perhaps. But, were you there?

I was, sitting in the 12th row of the Bolshoy Ice Dome, a 10,000-capacity arena across the street from the Black Sea, which the Russians had designed to resemble the famous Faberge eggs czars once dispensed to their wives and mothers as gifts.

The shock of the epic 3-2 overtime loss, the first extra frame win for the Olympic gold medal in women’s ice hockey, seemed nearly concussive to the United States team and fans.

It ached for remedy. But disappointment ruled, and it overwhelmed.

The U.S. team at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics includes 10 of the members of the 2014 roster. Their distress remains a collective, open wound.

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To a player, the women say the transcending motivation they feel, and perhaps the only motivation they have needed over the 1,436 days between Olympic gold medal games, is the thought of an evaporating two-goal lead with only 2:36 left in the third period, in the Bolshoy.

And then, yielding to a catastrophic series of unfortunate bounces and a questionable call by the referee, they lost in overtime.

Praised by some as among the greatest hockey games ever played, it featured high skill, great determination and agonizing misfortune for the United States.

Defeat darkened their lives, despite several scoring chances that went unfulfilled because of the sort of calamity that spurs believers to wonder where God sometimes goes to hide.

When she played at the 2017 World Championships, in USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth in April, I asked “Captain America” for the PyeongChang games, Meghan Duggan, about the two Olympic gold medal games, past and future.

“We’ll focus on that work for years,” said the 30-year-old from Massachusetts. “You never forget a loss like that. We want to remember a win.”

When it ended, four years ago in the Bolshoy, the Canadians leapt joyously into each other’s arms.

In the U.S. end, bodies lay strewn around the ice.

A few United States players collapsed in frustrated disappointment and remained prone on the cold, hard surface, even after their neighbors from North America were finally prepared to shake hands.

It is among the most disagreeable defeats I have ever witnessed a team endure, a downfall of rare bitterness.

“We were up by two goals,” said the forward Kelli Stack, afterwards. “It’s just heartbreaking and shocking we didn’t win the game.

Stack, who is on the 2018 team, and some of the other United States players stood for long moments off to the side, some crying, holding their faces in their hands.

They preferred to look at their skates, struggling to hold themselves erect. Teammates helped lift the torsos of teammates who doubled over in anguish.

“Yes, we wanted to win,” said Gisele “Gigi” Marvin, the veteran defenseman who is on the roster in PyeongChang, too. “But, right now, what’s coming out of it is the hurting process.”

The U.S. scored first, in the middle of the second period, when Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson tallied.

When Alex Carpenter did, too, at 2:01 of the third period, assisted by a perfectly threaded pass from Hilary Knight, the thing felt cinched.

Then, bleeding began. It could not be controlled.

The United States set up in its own zone as if to say, “We will play here, defending this,” with several minutes left.

They failed to launch their attack. They rarely possessed the puck.

At 16:34 of the third period, Brianne Jenner of Canada fired a seemingly harmless shot from the middle of the ice. It struck the knee cap of a U.S. defender skating by in front of the net and got behind goalie Jessie Vetter.

After just one of several misfortunes the United States would endure, the Canadians were off and running.

Asked about the series of enormously fortunate bounces, along with what clearly was a bad call on a slashing penalty in overtime, Jenner invoked the spirits that purportedly preside over hockey.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe it was the hockey gods.”

Well, the United States women had a belly full of that sort of thing They want it behind them.

They want to win, as they did April 7 in Plymouth, when they beat Canada, also 3-2 in overtime, on a goal by Knight, to win the World Championship.

“It’s honestly a dream come true,” said Knight, the U.S. sniper, and a sizeable center who can skate, make plays and, especially, fire pucks, of the 2018 gold medal game against Canada (12 a.m., Thursday, NBCSN).

“This is the world’s biggest stage. This is the game that you want,” she said, according to USA Hockey.

“We’re super excited to be in this position again,” Lamoureux-Davidson said, again, according to USA Hockey.

A defenseman appearing in her third Olympics, she has played in seven World Championships.

“We worked four years to put ourselves in position to compete for a gold medal,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “We’re ready to go to battle.”

Back again

Ten players on the U.S. women’s Olympic hockey team also played on the team in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games:

Kacey Bellamy, Kendall Coyne, Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan, Amanda Kessel, Hilary Knight, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, Monique Lamoureux-Morando, Gigi Marvin, Lee Stecklein.