Canada Wins Gold In Women's Ice Hockey

The world's women's hockey superpowers clashed at the Vancouver Olympics Thursday night. The U.S. team had to settle for silver, after losing 2-0 to Canada. Canada's women's hockey team has won three straight gold medals and 15 straight Olympic games.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Women skated into Olympic history last night at the Winter Games in Vancouver. And they did so in two very different events. Athletic grace marked the womens figure skating free program, and Kim Yu-Na of South Korea won the gold medal. Athletic power had its moment in the gold medal hockey game. Canada made up for past disappointments and shut out the United States two to nothing.

We have two reports from Vancouver. First NPRs Howard Berkes takes us to the game that has Canada celebrating.

HOWARD BERKES: This was one of the most anticipated moments of these Olympics, and when it finally arrived, the home country crowd just uncorked.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting)

CROWD: Five, four, three, two, one.

BERKES: And it was mega decibels all night, because this is Canada, and this is hockey, after all. The Canadians havent owned the podium like theyd hoped, and the Canadian men lost to the Americans in hockey Sunday.

(Soundbite of horn and cheering)

BERKES: And thats what happens when the Canadian women score, and they did 10 minutes into the first period, and then again three minutes later. The rest of the game was a tough and physical defensive duel with no scoring. Afterwards, Canadian Shannon Szabados, a brick wall of a goalie, was all aww shucks about the performance, the pressure and the crowd.

Ms. SHANNON SZABADOS (Goalkeeper, Canadian Womens Ice Hockey Team): Oh, the crowd was unbelievable, tried to block it out as much as I could to calm the nerves down. But you know, we go out there, and we know theyre cheering for us not against us. So wheres the pressure in that?

BERKES: Its in the ears of the American team which had been hoping to avenge the loss on its home ice to Canada eight years ago at the Salt Lake City Olympics. Angela Ruggiero remembers that game and every other game team U.S.A. ever played in the Olympics. She was in all of them.

Ms. ANGELA RUGGIERO (Member, U.S. Womens Ice Hockey Team): When you give your life to something and you come up short as a team, and its just hard.

(Soundbite of crying)

Ms. RUGGIERO: Thats whats amazing about the Olympics, you know, I keep saying we did this as a team, and I wish I could play many more happy games with this team, thats for sure.

BERKES: Outside the arena, Canadians were gathered in squares and massive tents with big screen TVs. This is what the moment of victory sounded like in a packed tent called the Molson Canada Hockey House.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BERKES: Victoria Tate, of Toronto, was head to waist in Canada red from ball cap to hockey jersey, and she tried to explain what the moment means.

Ms. VICTORIA TATE: Its always about our insecurities as Canadians, about the big bad U.S.A. stealing our thunder, because they dont have a lot of hopes and dreams. But we have to own the hockey rink, so, we all get worried that theyre gonna take it when it matters most to us. So far, so good, today.

BERKES: Back at the arena, before the Canadians got their gold medals and the sullen Americans received their silvers, the home country crowd paid their respects with a cheer they could only chant in victory.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

CROWD: U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A....

BERKES: But after the crowd and the Canadian players sang Oh Canada and the hockey women dispensed with questions from reporters, they returned to the ice, still in their uniforms, gold medals hanging from their necks, guzzling champagne and beer and smoking cigars. This is Canada, after all, and this is hockey.

Howard Berkes, NPR News, Vancouver.

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