February 25, 2010
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – In 2002, USA Hockey had its shot at making Winter Olympic history.
The American women were undefeated in 35 games. The American men were a star-studded group, featuring Mike Richter, Brett Hull, Mike Modano, and Miracle on Ice coach Herb Brooks behind the bench. When both teams advanced to the tournament finals, the notion that one nation could sweep both gold medals seemed inevitable.
In fact, it was ... for Canada.
The Canadian men broke a 50-year drought in defeating the U.S., 5-3, for gold. Its women upset the U.S., 3-2, to win gold for the first time since women's hockey joined the Olympics in 1998. Both victories occurred on American home ice in Salt Lake City, and it remains the only time one country has swept the hockey titles.
Eight years later, the Americans are closing in on a bit of sweet retribution in Vancouver. The U.S. women play for gold Thursday (6:30 p.m. EST/3:30 p.m. PST) against the Canadians, having split their last eight games in world championship competition. The U.S. men will play for a medal. Their semifinal game against Finland on Friday will determine if it's for gold or bronze, with Canada looming as a potential finals opponent.
The U.S. men and women had dinner together earlier in the tournament, and star defenseman Angela Ruggiero said she spoke with the men about sweeping gold on Canadian ice.
"I brought it up: 'Hey, remember Salt Lake?'" she said. "Some of those guys were in Salt Lake, and Canada beat us on home ice. There'd be nothing better than to repeat that, but flip the stage."
"I do think it's in the back of everyone's heads," said Ruggiero. "But we can't control what they do, and they can't control what we do."
The American women feel a sense of history every time they walk into the locker room. They have a photo of the 1998 gold-medal team displayed, along with a photo of the 1980 men's Miracle on Ice team. "We look up at them every day. We know how hard it is to even get to play in a gold-medal game," said Ruggiero.
Even harder? Playing in front of the partisan crowd in Hockey Place. Ruggiero anticipates her team's gold-medal game will feel like Sunday's pro-Canada crowd in the U.S. men's upset.
"Hostile. Chanting against you. That's OK, because our team thrives on that. And I love silencing the crowds," she said. "We don't have the weight of a nation like Canada does in these games."
No, they just have a shot at history – provided the U.S. men do their part after the U.S. women capture their second-ever gold.