February 8-17, 1998 — Nagano, Japan
The 1998 Olympics was historic for two reasons. For the men, it was the first time full NHL participation occurred. For the women, it was the first time they were playing Olympic hockey at all. The excitement of the women’s event was all the more palatable because it was virtually certain that Canada and USA were headed towards a gold medal showdown.
These had been the two best countries since 1990, when the IIHF started the women’s world championship, and both countries had been preparing for years for this inaugural competition. The six teams entered played a simple round robin, the top two advancing to a gold-medal game, and the third and fourth teams playing for the bronze medal.
As expected, Canada and USA played for the gold, but the result came, if not as a shock, then certainly as a surprise. The first period was scoreless, but early in the second the Americans took the lead thanks to Gretchen Ulion. Midway through the third, they extended the lead to 2-0 on a Shelley Looney goal, but Danielle Goyette finally beat Sarah Teuting to make it 2-1 with 4:01 left in regulation.
The Canadians poured on the pressure in the dying minutes, but the only puck to cross the goal line was fired by American Sandra Whyte into the vacant Canadian net at 19:52. The Americans won gold, and the teary-eyed favourites from Canada had to settle for silver after having won all four World Championship gold medals. But for the Americans, they didn’t win the game on this day so much as three days earlier in the final game of the round robin.
In that game, Canada had built an impressive and comfortable 4-1-lead early in the third period only to see the Americans score six unanswered goals and win 7-3. Canada has never before or since given up as many goals in a period or game, but the incredible onslaught by USA gave the players confidence that they could beat Canada when the gold medal was on the line. And that’s just what they did.
But regardless of the final outcome – women’s hockey was the winner. As of 1998, it was not only endorsed by the IIHF. Women’s hockey was now accepted by sport’s most prestigious movement.
As part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations, www.IIHF.com is featuring the 100 top international hockey stories from the past century (1908-2008). Starting now and continuing through the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Canada, we will bring you approximately three stories a week counting down from Number 100 to Number 11.
The Final Top 10 Countdown will be one of the highlights of the IIHF's Centennial Gala Evening in Quebec City on May 17, the day prior to the Gold Medal Game of the 2008 World Championship.
These are the criteria for inclusion on this list: First, the story has to have had a considerable influence on international hockey. Second, it has to have had either a major immediate impact or a long-lasting significance on the game. Third, although it doesn't necessarily have to be about top players, the story does have to pertain to the highest level of play, notably Olympics, World Championships, and the like. The story can be about a single moment — a goal, a great save, a referee's call — or about an historic event of longer duration — a game, series, tournament, or rule change.