GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- As she grabbed the puck at center ice and danced her way toward the goal, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson knew exactly the move she had planned for the biggest penalty shot of her life. She called it "Oops, I Did It Again," a forehand-backhand-forehand rope-a-dope that she had spent four years perfecting for a moment just like this.
As Lamoureux-Davidson headed toward the goal, everyone in the arena rose to their feet. The game was tied 2-2. So, too, was the shootout. A goal here and a save by 20-year-old Maddie Rooney at the other end, and Olympic gold would belong to the U.S., the 20-year-old Canadian hockey giant slayed.
They had waited four years for this moment. Every practice, every sprint, every wall sit dedicated to now. They couldn't stomach another gold-medal punch from the Canadians. Not like this. Not after coming back from a 2-1 deficit to force overtime. Not after killing a 4-on-3 penalty for the last 1:35 of the extra period. Not after they stood there four years ago and watched gold medals they thought should be theirs go around the necks of the Canadians.
As she headed to the goal, Lamoureux-Davidson faked right, then left. Canada's Shannon Szabados, one of the best goalies in the world, bit on both moves. She began to fall back. Lamoureux-Davidson pulled the puck back to the right. Szabados tried to recover, reaching her outstretched body as far as she could. It didn't matter. The puck was in the back of the net. And the U.S. had a 3-2 lead.
At the other end, the baby-faced Rooney waited for her chance. Her teammates pointed her way. "You got this," they screamed. Four years earlier, she'd watched the gold-medal game in Sochi from her couch at home in Minnesota. She was only 16 then. But she still felt the pain. Now her job was to fight it off. As Canada forward Meghan Agosta headed her way, Rooney anticipated a shot between her legs. She guessed right. She blocked it with her pads, tossed the puck aside with her glove, and just like that, four years of pain had transformed into immediate pleasure.
This is, of course, what you sign up for when you play women's hockey for Canada or the United States. Every four years, you find yourself in this cauldron of anxiety and emotion, knowing full well that 60-plus minutes of everything you have will result in one of two emotions: elation or despair.
As the Americans celebrated, two decades of emotion poured out onto the ice. Sticks, gloves and helmets flew everywhere. Tears fell. A mob turned into a pile, with the kid goalie at the very bottom.
"At that point," Rooney said, "It all went to black."
Lamoureux-Davidson skated to the bench and grabbed an American flag. For seven months she had planned for this exact moment, keeping the flag folded in her locker stall at the team's training facility in Tampa as a source of motivation.
As the Americans celebrated on the ice, the PA system in the Gangneung Hockey Centre played Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A.," followed by Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'." You would have thought the game had been in Madison Square Garden.
Someone pulled out a cellphone to call Colleen Hacker, the team's mental skills coach. Hacker had been unable to travel because of medical issues. The team brought with it a cardboard cutout of the psychologist and Skyped with her while in Korea. She was as big a part of this success as anyone. It was Hacker who helped the Americans rebuild their confidence after the gut punch that was Sochi, Hacker who challenged them to be the best they could be.
Some 10 minutes after Rooney stopped Agosta's shot, the players gathered on the ice for a team photo, smiles draped from ear to ear, index fingers proudly held up displaying the No. 1. Shortly after that, they received their gold medals -- fittingly enough from Angela Ruggiero, an IOC member and a forward on the last U.S. team to beat Canada and win Olympic gold, in 1998. As "The Star-Spangled Banner" played, the players draped their arms around one another, rocking back and forth.
"Just take a picture of my face," forward Gigi Marvin would say later. "I just don't know what to say besides joy. Grateful. Appreciation. I could speak for hours about what my teammates have overcome. It's beyond priceless. And it means so much to be able to do this together and come out on top."
Rooney was told after the game that someone had changed her job on her Wikipedia profile to "Secretary of Defense."
"That's hilarious," she said. "I don't even know what to say."
Rooney and the rest of the team insisted after the game that they never had a doubt. Even though Canada hadn't lost in the Olympics since the gold-medal game in 1998, a streak of 24 straight wins. Even when the Canadians flipped Team USA's 1-0 first-period lead into a 2-1 second-period deficit. Even late in overtime, when an illegal-hit penalty on Megan Keller gave the Canadians a 4-3 man advantage with 1:35 to play.
"We did this together today," forward Brianna Decker said. "We were friggin' ready. It didn't matter how it was going to end. It didn't matter the path we had to take. We knew we were going to end up on top."
Of course, 10 of them said the same thing four years ago, insisting to anyone who would listen that their time had come; Canada was finished. But in a span of 206 seconds, that all changed. A 2-0 lead turned into a 2-2 tie. Then overtime. A penalty. And in the blink of an eye, the puck in the back of the net. The tears dripping down their cheeks.
This time it was the Canadians left to process exactly what happened, how this group had become the ones to finally lose in the Olympics to the Americans. Jocelyne Larocque lifted her silver medal off her neck seconds after receiving it.
"When you don't hear that anthem on the blue line, it's a feeling you're never going to forget," forward Natalie Spooner said. "You work four years for this. You dream about it every day. And when it doesn't come true, it's a tough pill to swallow."
For four years, the Americans used the sting of Sochi to propel them in everything they did. They thought they were prepared that night, too, but realized in the aftermath they weren't. Even if an empty-net shot would have gone into the back of the net and not ricocheted off the post, they learned they didn't deserve to win that night.
So coach Robb Stauber, an assistant on that staff, challenged the players to their core, changing their style of play and at times irritating the veterans with so much that was so new. There were growing pains, especially in the past three months, when the U.S. lost five straight games to Canada. But everything pointed to Thursday night. And, in the end, a gold medal around their necks.
"What this group has been able to accomplish is way beyond sport. And that's never going to fade."Team USA forward Gigi Marvin
"Our players worked for four years," Stauber said. "They commit their lives to get to the one game, and it's not easy to even get into the gold-medal game. But to get into that gold-medal game and know that it can come down to one bounce or, in this case, a shootout. Last time, in 2014, it came down to a post. This time, a shootout. And it ended in our favor."
The win was about far more than Olympic gold. In March, the players nearly sat out the world championships after a dispute with USA Hockey over its treatment and wages. The players eventually came to a new agreement and won the 2017 world title but were galvanized by their stand.
"What this group has been able to accomplish is way beyond sport," Marvin said. "And that's never going to fade. Like my little niece, when she wakes up tomorrow, it's going to affect her more than it will me what we did last March. We can find such joy in how we were able to help others who will come after us."
As an 8-year-old girl 20 years ago, Hilary Knight remembers jumping up and down on her couch when Cammi Granato, Ruggiero and the rest of the U.S. team beat Canada for the first women's hockey Olympic gold. It was a game that helped inspire her own start in hockey. On Thursday, she couldn't help but think about other little girls back home in the U.S., motivated by what her team had just done.
"I hope now that women's hockey explodes," she said. "We want to keep growing the game and building a future that's far better than anything we ever had. And I can only think tonight's going to help."