It was a storybook ending. Team USA captured their first ever home-ice gold medal in the 2017 IIHF World Championships, capping off several weeks (or arguably over a year) of high drama and defeating Canada 3-2 in overtime. Because, as The Ice Garden’s Hannah Bevis said, of course the gold medal game between the U.S. and Canada went into overtime.
Less than two weeks ago, no one was sure whether Team USA would even play at worlds. On March 15, the players threatened to boycott until they could reach a deal with USA Hockey that would provide more compensation, equitable treatment, and development for the youth program. As the clock ticked, fear grew that the U.S. would have no team to field at championships.
On March 29, they struck a deal. The next day, the players flew to Plymouth, Mich. They were a few days later than the other teams, but they weren’t worried.
“Through a process like this, it bonds us even closer,” Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said before the first game. “And the team chemistry and the trust is going to be where it never has before.”
And she was right.
The team came out swinging, shutting out Canada and Russia in their first two games. After a closer-than-they-would-have-liked victory over a strong Finnish team, they rebounded with a dominant semifinal performance, defeating Germany 11-0. Canada put on its own show in the semis, blanking Germany in a 4-0 victory and setting the stage for a U.S./Canada gold medal match, just like we’ve seen 17 times before.
In front of a sold-out crowd, the game was everything it was hyped to be. It was exciting, physical, and breath-taking. Meghan Agosta scored on Canada’s first shot, just over a minute into the game. Kacey Bellamy had both of Team USA’s regulation goals, including one off a blind between-the-legs pass by Hilary Knight. Brianne Jenner tied it up in the third period with a goal that was only called after the refs reviewed the video footage. Nicole Hensley, in net for Team USA, contorted her body in ways that shouldn’t have been possible to make some amazing glove saves.
And then it went into overtime. Because of course it went into overtime.
And while the packed crowd collectively held their breath, they played over ten minutes of 5-on-5 overtime, until Hilary Knight blasted one into the back of the net, and the arena exploded.
This is the United States’ eighth gold medal, 18th total medal, and fourth consecutive gold, but it’s the first time they’ve ever won gold on home soil, and the emotion was clear on the faces of the players, who sang the national anthem with their arms around each other.
“The negotiation process took a toll and our camp was shorter, but we knew it was going to be a bond that was unbreakable,” said Knight afterwards. “I think years down the line we’re going to realize how we made history.”
Finland, who had a history-making tournament of their own, earned the bronze medal with a 8-0 win over Germany earlier in the day.
There will be no World Championships next year, as it is an Olympic year. Instead, the U.S. will head to Pyeongchang with the goal of earning their first Olympic gold medal since 1998.
Photos courtesy of Images on Ice via http://teamusa.usahockey.com