Canada's coin flip loss to USA adds another chapter to epic rivalry

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Well, you can’t say the Americans didn’t deserve it.

They were the best team on Thursday, the most dominant all tournament, and they had experienced more than their fair share of heartbreak over the last 20 years.

If anything, Canada is lucky it was able to get the game to a shootout after hanging on the ropes for almost the entire 20-minute overtime, bailed out only by a valiant performance from goaltender Shannon Szabados.

The veteran netminder came close to doing it again in the shootout, but was simply bested by one of USA’s star players who pulled off a nearly unstoppable move.

You can’t blame her on that one, and you can’t blame Canada for losing to the U.S. for the first time at the Olympics since the gold medal final in 1998. It was another coin flip game that might as well have been settled by an actual coin flip.

That doesn’t make it any easier for the players to digest, but that’s simply a reality of this rivalry. The history, the “healthy dislike,” the equivalence of skill — it’s what makes these games so good. But it’s also what makes them so tough to lose, especially considering the build up to one game that only comes by every four years.

You could see it on the faces of the Canadian players, many of whom broke down in tears after the game: these losses hurt more than most in this sport.

Lauriane Rougeau, and Rebecca Johnston look on as Laura Stacey consoles Laura Fortino. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Lauriane Rougeau, and Rebecca Johnston look on as Laura Stacey consoles Laura Fortino. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

“Not a good feeling,” said Canadian veteran Natalie Spooner.

“We didn’t come here to win silver,” added forward Blayre Turnbull.

“It’s just hard,” said Jocelyne Larocque, who immediately removed the silver medal from around her neck. “We’re going for gold and I’m proud of this whole team, but we were chasing that gold medal.”

Canada had the bounces go its way in 2014, erasing a late 2-0 deficit before winning it in OT. The tables were turned in PyeongChang, with the United States tying it up with less than seven minutes remaining after catching Canada on a bad line change. The U.S. also dodged a bullet after taking a penalty in the final two minutes, which nearly resulted in the go-ahead goal.

Before that, it looked like Canada was going to pull it off once again thanks to another clutch goal by Marie-Philip Poulin in the second frame and an all-around effort defensively in front of Szabados.

But it’s never that easy. You could almost sense that something dramatic was going to happen.

“We knew it was going to be crazy,” said U.S. forward Kendall Coyne. “It always is when we play them.”

Coming into the final, it was hard to fathom this game living up to the gold medal thriller in Sochi. But despite ending in a shootout, it came pretty damn close. And chances are it will again four years from now in Beijing. This is the new normal between these two countries.

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