As participation in women’s hockey swells, the American team upends Canada in a game for the ages.
When Maddie Rooney, scrunched low in her goalie’s stance, blocked the last slithering puck of an epic struggle, celebration and pure relief swept over the ice in Pyeongchang. Her teammates on the United States women’s hockey team charged toward her and soon they were all in a heap, beaming, with sticks raised and their gloves and helmets littered around them. Back home, much of the country, now familiar with their talents, stayed up into the morning hours Thursday and reveled in their achievement. So do we.
In claiming the gold medal over their arch-nemesis from Canada, the American women endured a fourth period of hockey and a shootout that finished with one last sudden-death exchange. They avenged a heart-stopping loss to the Canadians four years ago in Sochi and broke Canada’s dominant run of four straight Olympic titles.
The U.S. victory puts a punctuation on the growth of the women’s game since 1998. That’s when the Americans took their first gold as women’s hockey debuted as an Olympic sport. (Rooney was 7 months old at the time.) Since then, teams and leagues have sprouted across the country and the number of girls and women registered with USA Hockey has nearly quadrupled, from roughly 21,000 to more than 76,000.
As the gold medal contest revealed, the style of play, too, has evolved, offering the same sort of contrasts as the men’s game. It was the Americans’ technique and speed versus the Canadians’ size and strength.
To reach her shining moment, Rooney, 5-foot-6, was compelled to play on her high school boys team to find the right level of competition. But thankfully, progress and new outlets are giving school-age players fresh opportunities. No doubt, Rooney and her teammates have inspired more young women to join the surge.
Madison Square Garden will honor the new Olympic champions for their instant impact on all of sports when members of the team attend the Rangers game March 6th.
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