While millions of Canadians watched on television as our National Women’s Hockey Team captured their fourth straight Olympic Gold Medal, Shaunavon’s own Hayley Wickenheiser had a front row view to the celebration on Thursday.
Hayley was on the ice for both the tying goal in the last minute of regulation and the winner in overtime as the Canadian squad scored a thrilling 3-2 comeback win over the United States in what should go down as the most exciting women’s hockey game ever played. “I think it was probably the best – the most exciting anyway – female hockey game that has ever been played,” said the former Public School student. With the win, Hayley, along with teammates Jayna Hefford and Caroline Ouellette joined Soviet biathlete Alexander Tikhonov and German speedskater Claudia Pechstein as the only athletes in any sport to be gold medallists in four consecutive Winter Games. “To do this four times in a row like we have – I think it’s a pretty big accomplishment,” she stated. Their record-setting performance, however, didn’t come easily. In fact, the Canadian squad trailed their bitter rivals from the United States by a count of 2-0 as the time clock ticked down into the last four minutes of play. The comeback was first launched by forward Brianne Jenner, who raced up the left wing and fired past American goalie Jessie Vetter with 3:26 left to play. Then, with the Canadian goalie pulled for an extra attacker in the final minute of regulation, Marie-Philip Poulin of Quebec City made a nice shot on the blocker side to tie the game. Hayley, who is widely regarded as the greatest women’s hockey player of all time, was standing in front of the net as the tying goal crossed the line. The Shaunavon native also had a big role on Canada’s winning marker in overtime. With both teams serving minor penalties, Hayley took off on a breakaway after collecting a loose puck in the slot of the Canadian zone. She was hauled down by Hilary Knight in what looked to be a penalty-shot infraction. Instead, Knight was handed a two-minute minor. The Canadians capitalized on the ensuing four-on-three powerplay as Poulin notched her second marker of the game. Hayley was once again on the ice for the winning tally. In fact, she seemed to be on the ice for every important moment and face-off down the stretch. The game featured plenty of drama, not the least of which was Canada’s frenzied comeback with its last minute goals and overtime clincher. The U.S. almost sealed the gold medal for themselves just moments before the tying marker. With Sabados already pulled for an extra attacker, an American forward shoveled a full length shot at the vacated Canada net. But the shot, which was created thanks to a mistake by one of the on-ice officials, hit the post. The game is already being lauded by hockey fans as one of the most exciting Canadian victories of all time. “It (last week’s victory) feels more exciting in the moment,” said Hayley, comparing it to previous Olympic wins. “Just the way everything turned. It was so quick – in the last four minutes of the game.” The loss was a bitter defeat for the American squad, which had won four straight exhibition games over Canada leading up to the Olympics. It marked the third time in the past four Olympics that the U.S. has had to settle for the silver medal. (They also won bronze in 2006 when they were upset in the semi-finals.) Hayley has now been a member of Canadian Women’s Olympic teams that have won 20 straight in the Winter Games dating back to the 1998 final in Nagano, Japan. “I think its the hardest win that we’ve ever encountered and definitely the hardest season for our group as a team,” she commented.