1998: American Women Beat Canadians, Win Olympic Gold
By Mark Weisenmiller

For the female athlete, the 1990s was the decade in which she finally gained respect on the world stage. Millions of dollars were poured into women’s athletics – by the television networks, corporate sponsors and colleges – and women excelled in sport at all levels.

This was especially true in women’s ice hockey. The International Ice Hockey Federation formed a women’s committee to give the sport formal leadership and organization. As the decade ended, 50,000 women were registered hockey players in Canada, versus 500,000 men.

Canada and the U.S. quickly established themselves as the powerhouses of women’s hockey. The Canadian team featured Haley Wickenheiser, Jennifer Botterill and Manon Rheaume, the first woman to play for an NHL team. Rheaume was in the Tampa Bay Lighning net in a preseason game in 1992. Team USA was headlined by captain Cammi Granato, Karen Bye and goalies Sara DeCosta and Sarah Tueting

Six teams qualified for the first women’s ice hockey competition at the Olympics, in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, by virtue of their finish at the 1997 Women’s World Championships: USA, Canada, China, Finland, Sweden and Japan. Canada entered the Olympics having won seven of 13 games in a pre-Olympics series with the USA.

The two favorites squared off  in a preliminary round game. Team USA won 7-6 after scoring six goals in 12 minutes to run their Games record to 5-0.

The two teams met again in the gold medal game Feb. 17, 1998 in Nagano’s Big Hat Stadium. The showdown turned out to be as much of a sports classic as Ali-Frazier and the fifth game of the 1975 World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox.

The Americans opened the scoring in the second period when forward Gretchen Ulion, a former high school teacher, beat Canada’s Tueting on a power play.

Still trailing 1-0 at the intermission between the second and third periods, Team Canada head coach Shannon Miller showed her skaters a video of past game highlights to motivate them.

The Canadians began the third period aggressively, and paid for it, surrendering another power play goal, by Shelley Looney.

U.S. Olympic hockey goalie Sara DeCosta (1), left, jubilates the U.S. Olympic team's gold medal victory over Team Canada at Big Hat arena, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 1998. U.S. defeated Canada 3-1. (AP Photo/Hans Deryk)

Team Canada sliced the Americans’ lead in half, to 2-1, on a goal by forward Danielle Goyette with four minutes left to play in the period. Fired up by the goal, Team Canada pressed Team USA, but the Americans, led by Ruggiero on the blue line, did not crack.

Team USA’s Sandra Whyte clinched the gold medal with an empty-net marker with eight seconds left on the clock, triggering an unprecedented stretch of publicity for her and her teammates and women’s ice hockey.

The images of some of the Americans appeared on Wheaties boxes. Ten of them read a “Top Ten List” on the “Late Night with David Letterman” show. And Granato was chosen to carry the American flag during the Nagano Games’ closing ceremony.

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