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Here’s what made the U.S.-Canada women’s Olympic hockey match so riveting

U.S. Olympic athletes won several medals Wednesday night, perhaps none more thrilling than the gold medal victory for the women's hockey team against arch rival Canada. William Brangham talks with Christine Brennan of USA Today about why she calls the win one of the greatest things she’s ever seen.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported, U.S. Olympic athletes won several medals last night.

    And, as William Brangham reports, probably none was more thrilling than when the women’s hockey team won the gold medal against archrival Canada.

  • William Brangham:

    For the past two decades, the American team has been looking up enviously at their rivals. That finally changed last night with a game for the ages.

    I spoke earlier to Christine Brennan of USA Today, who was watching the game in South Korea. She’s also a commentator for CNN.

  • Christine, in your column, you wrote:

    “Wake up, America. While you were sleeping, something magical happened last night.”

    Can you tell us a little bit about that game?

  • Christine Brennan:

    Oh, my gosh, William.

    This is one — I have covered a lot of Olympics. I have covered a lot of sports. This is one of the greatest things I have ever seen. U.S. women’s hockey, they won the gold medal, beat Canada 3-2.

    There’s such a history between these two teams. They’re the two best teams in women’s hockey in the world. And every — it seems like every four years they play each other for the gold medal. U.S. won in 1988, and has never won another gold medal. Canada’s won all of them up until these Games, so a 20-year drought for the United States, this buildup to this rivalry.

    And the game lived up to the billing in every way you could possibly ask. U.S. goes ahead 1-0. Canada comes back, swarms back, takes a 2-1 lead. The U.S. ties it right at the end, like six minutes to go. Goes into overtime, 20 minutes of overtime, freewheeling, really interesting, fascinating play, both sides.

    Still tied. Goes to shoot-outs. After five of the shoot-out shots, each side, 5-3 each, still tied. And they have to go to a sixth. And that’s where the USA wins it.

  • Announcer:

    The United States wins gold in PyeongChang!

  • Christine Brennan:

    And it was just riveting and fun to watch and great playing, and these two teams who respect each other so much, who know each other so well, obviously, so close proximity-wise, just Canada and the U.S.

    And to have this game played at the most important moment of their lives, and then the U.S. wins, and for the first time in 20 years, the U.S. wins an Olympic gold medal in women’s ice hockey, that’s about as good as it gets.

  • William Brangham:

    I understand many of these women say they were inspired by that last win in 1998. Did you hear that from that as well?

  • Christine Brennan:

    I sure did.

    They talked to us in the interview area, the mix zone, afterwards. And every one, to a woman, said that, that they were either trying to win it for some of the older women, the veterans, including the Lamoureux twins.

    Obviously, Jocelyne Lamoureux had that incredible shot. If anyone hasn’t seen it, find it, the last shoot-out goal that won it for the United States, and then the great save by Maddie Rooney to stuff Canada, when they had their chance to tie it back up again.

    And so you had some of these older players who had three Olympics, and, of course, at this point — at that point, no gold and two silvers, very unsatisfying silvers to that point.

    And then you have the names that these young — these women grew up with. You know, they were their role models. They were cheering for them back when they were playing in Nagano in ’98, when these women were little kids in their bedrooms and had posters of them up in their rooms.

    And so, absolutely — and we see this over and over again, William, in women’s sports that now we have a whole new generation of girls who grew up watching athletes play team sports at a high level.

    And the same exact scenario, really, for me as the 1999 women’s World Cup in soccer, and how that has translated to so many women being empowered and riveted by that game who have now gone on to other great things in their lives 19 years later.

    And it’s terrific to see in this case the girls next door happen to be wearing hockey skates, but it’s that same story over and over again. And the Olympics bring us those stories, those Title IX stories especially, involving women and the girls who root for them.

  • William Brangham:

    We tend to think of hockey as a largely male sport. Is it becoming more popular with young women?

  • Christine Brennan:

    Yes, it absolutely is.

    Now, obviously, it’s a northern sport, and it’s always been very popular in the Boston area, in Minnesota and Wisconsin, the great high school programs there, the great college programs there. And then, of course, Canada, they’re so good at it as well.

    But I was just looking this up, and over the last decade, a 25 percent increase in participation, according to USA Hockey, for girls and women, and especially from 18 and under. So, these youth programs, they’re starting.

    I know this. I grew up, my brother played hockey. We grew up in Toledo, Ohio, not far from Detroit, and I think I would have played hockey if it had been available back then. And I had plenty of sports to play, so I never, ever had a chance. There was no girls hockey back then. And now there is girls hockey.

    And there are girls playing throughout the Midwest, Great Lakes states, obviously the Northern Midwest, and then, of course, in New England especially.

    And I think something like this, the way this game was played, the attention to it, and I actually think, William, the fact that it was overnight — I know — I heard from a lot of people who stayed up and watched it. East Coast, you had to stay up pretty late, obviously. In the West Coast, it wasn’t so bad.

    But I think people, waking up to this news that something great happened and watching the highlights, even if it’s just a few seconds of the shoot-out, I think this is going to have a nice impact. And I think these kind of touchstone moments really do occur, where the Olympics bring, in this case, girls to a sport that they otherwise might not have even thought of trying.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Christine Brennan of USA Today, thanks so much.

  • Christine Brennan:

    William, my pleasure. Thank you.

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