Detroit — They produced what many expected, and what they usually accomplish when the women of the United States and Canada face each other in hockey for Olympic gold or the World Championship.
On such occasions, it is as if their only thought upon seeing each other is to set the barn on fire.
Pyeongchang produced exactly what Sochi did: A gut-wrenching, nip-and-tuck, well-played game that took more than regulation time to decide the gold medal winner in women’s ice hockey.
This time, unlike last time, the United States players were thrilled.
This time, the Canadians were in agony.
After four consecutive gold medals for Canada, the United States won its first in 20 years.
Another terrific, one-goal women’s ice hockey game between the United States and Canada ended in a shootout, 3-2.
The United States won the 2017 World Championship by the same score, in overtime, in the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth 10 months ago.
Canada won by the same score in overtime, in Sochi.
As social media demonstrated, hockey fans in North America were riveted by the experience, even though the action unfolded from close to midnight until 2 a.m.
Veteran hockey writers with long Stanley Cup experience tweeted live to beat the band, joking about the extreme tension of the moments.
The United States scored first, 19:34 in, when the American sniper Hilary Knight tallied.
Canada got two in the second, including one by Marie-Philip Poulin, who has now scored five of the last seven goals her team has scored against the United States in gold medal play.
Maddie Rooney, the 20-year-old United States goalie, 7-months-old the last time the United States won gold at the Olympics, smiled after every shot in the shootout, whether she saved it or not.
She smiled after she stopped Poulin in the shootout.
And Rooney’s smile was just the same when the put the gold medal around her neck.
Beginning the sixth round of the shootout, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson skated down on veteran Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados with greater than average pace.
Lamoureux-Davidson showed Szabados the puck on her stick, held to the right, as if to shoot.
Then, she moved it quickly to her left, as if to change the shot entirely. Szabados went with her. But, in a blink, Lamoureux-Davidson drew it sharply back to her right.
Szabados could not recover.
Lamoureux-Davidson buried her shot and produced a gold-medal winning goal that will be replayed for players and fans of international hockey across generations.
At the other end of the ice, Rooney smiled.
She was still smiling when she stopped Meghan Agosta, the veteran Olympic performer for Canada, moments later.
It is all they had thought of for four years after the crushing 3-2 loss to Canada in Sochi, when they led 2-0 with 3:26 left in regulation.
This was not like that.
The Canadian and United States women have provided exciting hockey, capturing the attention of an international television audience and some hockey fans around the globe for at least 20 years, now.
But those who provide hockey opportunities for women have much work to do, despite the great gold medal games, and the great rivalry.
Make no mistake, as the United States women demonstrated in their threat to strike and halt the 2017 World Championship until their demands for better pay, conditions, marketing and development were met, the women’s game requires nurturing attention.
As the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics demonstrate, once again, the lack of parity in women’s ice hockey internationally discourages interest.
When nations that play hockey, like Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and others beat the United States and Canada only a few times in international play across decades, it suggests the Olympic sport is less than sporting.
Raising the bar
Members of the International Olympic Committee expressed concern about it in Vancouver in 2010. They have been less public in their skepticism since.
Regardless, the point is that for women to have something approaching equal opportunity, sometimes leaders need to force issues.
The International Ice Hockey Federation and USA Hockey both must make their intentions clearer.
Is developing the women’s game a priority? To what extent?
Members of the women’s national team gambled with their careers last year to make the point that the support of USA Hockey for men is not equal to that of women.
They are correct.
Remedial plans are in place, at USA Hockey. They require public scrutiny.
And, the women’s assertions apply to the IIHF.
We, in Michigan, have our own issues.
Below the adult level of the game, in local youth hockey, including the fine work of groups like Little Caesars, Honey Baked and Compuware, great programs are available. Above it, far too little is done for girls and women who play hockey.
In their rush to provide something approaching equal opportunity under federal civil rights law, I refer you to Title IX, colleges and universities around Michigan and done well providing the chance for women to excel in sport.
Not only have the major institutions, Michigan and Michigan State provided substantial programming for women, they are held out as exemplary.
But, somewhere along the line, hockey did not make the cut.
There are no major collegiate women’s programs in Michigan.
Terrific players like the new gold medalist Megan Keller of Farmington Hills, the women’s national team and Boston College — who is likely to star in eventually in the four-team National Women’s Hockey League — have to leave Michigan to play hockey.
Oakland University, with the support of the NHL and the Red Wings, is exploring the establishment of Division I programs for men and women.
Despite the heavy artillery, it faces societal barriers in establishing the women’s game.
Intolerance stubbornly persists.
I have experienced it just covering women’s hockey. Imagine how it must be to play.
In April at the women’s IIHF World Championship, I was the only representative of mainstream media to attend the entire event at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.
That, for a World Championship, in hockey, in Metro Detroit.
I had hoped to interview representatives of the IIHF and USA Hockey, at some length, over a few days, about the status women’s hockey.
They were hard to find. And that, in a comparatively little, mostly empty arena.
Not just unavailable for interview, hardly there, at all.
When I got back to cover the Red Wings, a male colleague approached me with what he may have thought was a joke about him and his friends lacking dinner on their tables because the women in their homes were watching hockey.
I explained that, with sufficient help, they might more likely be playing.
As for expanding the NWHL, how about Detroit?
You mean to tell me we are going to have major professional soccer team in my hometown before we have a women’s professional hockey team?
Not that there is any fairness, at all, in measuring hockey and soccer by the gauge of societal disadvantage, and I watch a lot more English Premier League than most folks reading these words.
But when the Pistons moved into Little Caesars Arena, it suggested the cool new venue would not be a site for a franchise in the NWHL.
Not that it women’s professional hockey is on anyone’s agenda, of course, in a town where the men have had a franchise for 92 years.
But, why not?
Did you watch the United States play Canada, last night?
What? You sell cars and health care and the oil you refine here, and you cannot sell that?
They are selling soccer in Hamtramck.
Trust me, this is my hometown. I was born in Alexander Blaine Memorial Hospital on East Jefferson in 1956, and members of my family worked at Briggs and Tiger Stadium for a combined total of 65 years.
If one can sell soccer and market bike lanes on Trumbull where Tiger Stadium used to be, one can sell women’s professional hockey, in Detroit.
how much longer will no woman play major collegiate hockey, in Michigan?
And will entrepreneurs from the region will press for a NWHL franchise?
The holding of one’s breath for the answers is not suggested.
But, man, those women surely can play!