Miracle in Turin
TURIN--It will go down as the most important game in the history of women's hockey.
Now, you see, there are three.
With criticism of the women's game having hit new heights during the past week because of a series of lopsided scores, it may well be that Sweden's absolutely shocking 3-2 shootout victory over the United States this evening at the Palasport Olimpico will be the match that saves women's hockey as a viable sport in the Winter Olympics.
For the first time in any major women's competition - world championship or Olympics - it will not be Canada vs. the U.S. in the final. Sweden, having never beaten either country, fell behind 2-0 against the Americans but fought back to tie 2-2, largely on the basis of a breathtaking goaltending exhibition by Kim Martin.
Both Swedish goals were scored by star forward Maria Rooth, and it was Rooth again in the shootout who ripped a wrist shot past Chanda Gunn in the U.S. net to send her country into the gold medal game on Monday.
It was an upset perhaps even greater than that of the 1980 Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid when the U.S. men upset the mighty Russians, for that had happened before. In fact, the Americans had been Olympic champions at Squaw Valley in 1960.
Moreover, the women's game has desperately been hoping that one of the non-North American nations would rise to challenge Canada and the U.S. and blunt growing skepticism about the legitimacy of having women's hockey in the Olympics.
Those criticisms are now gone, at least temporarily, and perhaps forever.
Sweden will now try to ride Martin's brilliance to gold, and just getting to Monday's game will offer enormous encouragement to other women's hockey nations, particularly Russia, China and Switzerland, countries who have been trying to develop the sport.
Martin stopped four straight American shots in the shootout, and while the Swedes poured off the bench after Rooth scored, the U.S. players leaned against the bench in apparent disbelief. After collecting themselves, however, they moved into a circle at centre ice, raised their sticks and saluted the fans in a warm show of sportsmanship.
The U.S. lost today, but even the American players understood that the women's game won. Big.