This One's for the ( Canadian ) Girls

By Mark Weisenmiller

Team Canada 's women's hockey team won the 2006 Winter Olympics gold medal by defeating Sweden , 4-1, on February 20th.

Despite a valiant effort by the Swedish players, they could not keep up with the fast pace of offensive and defensive play by the Canadians from the opening face-off. The Swedes certainly had the backing of their home country men and women; nearly half of the population of Sweden is believed to have watched all or part of the gold medal game — an incredible statistic. A large chunk of Canada 's population also watched the game, according to the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), which broadcast the game.

Sweden 's goalie Kim Martin, 19, showed some trepidation early when she could not stop the first shot of the game.  Canada 's Gillian Apps

(grand-daughter of Hall of Famer Syl Apps Jr.) skated into Sweden 's zone with the puck with an opposing player virtually draped on her back. Apps cut to Martin's right, slid a backhand shot on the ice on Martin, and the puck squeezed through Martin's leg pads for a goal. It was Apps seventh goal of the tournament.

The Swedish team (which, collectively, was the youngest women's hockey team in the Winter Olympics) looked nervous early, but after the Apps goal, their overall play vastly improved. Yet Canada kept the pressure on, by keeping the puck in Sweden 's defensive zone for much of the first period.

The continuous pressure by the Canadians paid off when Caroline Ouellette took a cross-ice pass from Jayna Hefford and flipped a shot over Martin's shoulder. That made the score 2-0. Apps got called for hacking at Martin after the goalie made a save and the Swedes had their first power play. Yet Canada 's penalty killing unit shut down Sweden and for the tournament, this group of players for Team Canada killed an incredible 95% of their opponents power plays.

Sweden started Period two by trying to control the pace of the game, but Canada refused to let this happen. Team Canada monopolized the puck. Canada 's Hayley Wickenheiser (who had two assists in the game and was named the tournament Most Valuable Player) smashed a point-blank shot on Martin, but Martin made the save.

Canada's men's and women's hockey teams quickly befriended each other as both squads were billeted in a six-story building (which was draped with an enormous Canadian flag) in the Olympic Village in Turin, Italy. Sweden's men's and women's hockey players often hung out at a Olympic Village cafe that specialized in serving, hot, fresh Swedish coffee.

Wickenheiser put on a spectacular display of her considerable talents when she skated with the puck uncontested into Sweden's zone, took the puck with her behind Sweden's goal and Martin, then snapped a pass to Cherie Piper, who quickly shot the puck past Martin. Canada 3, Sweden 0. This was Piper's seventh goal of the tournament, which tied her with Apps for most goals scored during the Turin Winter Olympics. Almost 90 seconds after Piper's goal, Canada's Hefford, standing in front of Martin, took a rebound from a shot from Jennifer Botterill, and lifted it over a prone Martin, who had dived on her belly in an effort to cover the rebound. Canada 4, Sweden 0.

In a between periods (2nd and 3rd) interview on NBC-TV, Piper told a rink-side reporter that " we (Team Canada ) all like to work hard and go to the net. They're ( Team Sweden ) going to have to drag us down to stop us." In retrospect, it's doubtful that even dragging down the Canadian women would have stopped this powerhouse of a team from winning the game and the gold medal.

The third period began and the Swedish women were now playing for pride as the game was, for all practical purposes, unwinnable for the Swedes. After two periods, Canada had 22 shots to Sweden ’s five. At the end, Canada would record 26 shots and Team Canada goalie Charline Labonte would only face eight shots the entire game. Not only that but Canada was the least penalized team in the tournament, showing that they were a highly disciplined team.

Canada got called for a penalty early in Period three and the Swedes went on the power play. Then came the most curious moment of the game. Sweden 's Erika Holst and Maria Rooth kept passing the puck back and forth to each other — while both were behind the end line of Team Canada 's goal. This went on for an estimated 25 to 35 seconds and the crowd began to boo. The puck finally came out to Swedish defensemen Gunilla Andersson, who fired a booming slap shot past Labonte for Sweden 's first goal of the game.

The game ended and Team Canada had won their second consecutive gold medal in women's hockey. They beat Team USA for the gold medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics. Canada 's Danielle Goyette, 40, who was the flag-bearer for Canada during the Opening Ceremonies of the Turin Winter Olympics, announced her retirement.

At the gold medal ceremony, a slow-tempo version of " O Canada," the country's national anthem, was played and during the last stanza, when there was a pause in the music, the numerous Canadians in the audience suddenly and spontaneously started to loudly sing the remainder of the song. It was an emotionally moving moment and testament to the land where hockey rules.

Moreover, one would have to guess that if Team Canada's women's hockey team wins the gold medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver — and they are easily the favorite team to do so — millions of Canadians all over the country will again proudly be singing "O Canada."



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