20 Years Later: An oral history of the 1998 U.S. women’s hockey team

20 Years Later: An oral history of the 1998 U.S. women's hockey team

1998 U.S. women's hockey team poses with their gold medals on the ice in Nagano

Prior to the Olympic debut of women’s hockey in Nagano, women had played in just a handful of prominent events sanctioned by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). Four world championships and two tournaments dubbed the Pacific Rim Championships were held from 1990-1997.  In all six, Canada defeated the United States in the final game.

At the inaugural women’s hockey world championship event in 1990, Canada infamously wore pink uniforms adorned with maple leaves. For the athletes hoping to build women’s hockey into more than a side show, the uniforms were a reminder of just how far the sport had to go to reach the respect it deserved.

Women’s ice hockey first entered the Olympic conversation at an IOC executive board meeting in Barcelona, Spain in July 1992. There the board determined a women’s tournament would be added to the bill 10 years later in Utah at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games. However, the Organizing Committee of the 1998 Nagano Olympics was given the option to add women’s hockey to their Olympic program, if they so desired. That November, Nagano organizers agreed to give the sport its Olympic debut four years ahead of schedule.

With the Olympics fast approaching, USA Hockey looked for answers to improve their women’s hockey program. They wanted a team that could beat the Canadians when the stakes were at their highest. As he remembers it, Ben Smith, the eventual 1998 U.S. Olympic women’s hockey head coach, was first approached by USA Hockey leadership in February of 1995 on a snowy night in Boston.

— COMING TOGETHER — 

BEN SMITH | Head Coach
I got my first taste of women’s hockey, as a coach, with USA Hockey in the summer of ’95. I think Dave Ogrean and Art Berglund came in to Boston for a Beanpot tournament and probably over too many beers, they asked me if I would be willing to coach and on a cold snowy night in February, I said, “Sure, I’ll go to Lake Placid in August of ’95.” That was part of my introduction into the sport at that level. A lot of the women I met in August of ’95 ended up being on that ’98 Olympic team. I really didn’t even know the Olympics were coming for the women. USA Hockey had done me a lot of favors. I didn’t think anything about coaching the team at the Olympics, I was just paying back a debt.

Some of the pieces of the Olympic roster puzzle began to fall in place three years before Coach Smith would pick his team for Nagano. A few veterans of the U.S. player pool, including Cammi Granato and Karyn Bye, recall their first impressions of their new coach, a man who liked to lead by using often obscure references mined from his wide-ranging interests outside of hockey, from W.C. Fields comedy routines, golf and Boston sports history, just to name a few.

CAMMI GRANATO | #21 | Forward | Captain
None of us could figure out Coach Smith’s sayings. We were all like, What’s he mean? He’d say one sentence and then walk out. And we’re like, Does anyone want to tell us what that means?

KARYN BYE DIETZ | #6 | Forward | Assistant Captain
I remember Coach’s very first saying when he came on board in ’95, he said, “Alright, hay’s in the barn. Let’s go.” And we all look around like, The hay’s in the barn? After awhile we kind of figured out, oh, the work’s done, hay’s in the barn, let’s just go out and play.
 
KATIE KING CROWLEY | #20 | Forward
I think we were all a little afraid of him for a while. He’s a Massachusetts guy and you knew his name, you knew that he had been on the men’s side coaching hockey and he had such a storied career.

SUE MERZ | #7 | Defense
Coach Smith was the gatekeeper and we all wanted to get through the gate. For the most part we were all afraid of the wrath that he could bring and the consequence of not being in tip-top shape and performing well. He was definitely the dictator and we did what we had to do because at the end of the tunnel was the Olympics and all of us wanted to get there.

For some players, the hockey-playing years preceding their historic run in Nagano as members of the first U.S. Olympic Women’s Hockey Team, were filled with uncertainty. 

GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN | #22 | Forward
I went to a camp at the end of the summer of ’95. It was when Coach Smith was first involved with the team and I got cut. I got cut from that camp and I thought my hockey career had ended. I was pretty much out of the loop for a whole year. Being out of college when nobody knows you, you can fall through the cracks. Coach Smith called [my former head coach at Dartmouth] George Crowe, to find out about Sarah Tueting as a goalie. George Crowe said, “Hey, whatever happened to Gretchen?” and Coach Smith said, “Who? Gretchen, who?” and that’s when I got an invite [to another tryout]. I was ready to be done, I had kind of moved on, I had a teaching job ready for the fall. For a couple of seconds I thought, Do I really want to go? Do I really want to put myself out there and do this? It was my mother who said, “How are you going to feel if you don’t go try this?” I set my sights on not falling through the cracks again and went out to prove myself.

ANGELA RUGGIERO | #4 | Defense
He plucked me out of the crowd at 15. My first ever national team was his first month coaching our team. That was the summer of ’95 and I went to Finland. I was sort of rough around the edges. I was skilled but I didn’t know hockey. I had size, strength and speed and all that but I didn’t really understand the game. Coach Smith took me under his wing and really taught me the sport. He really helped nurture me into the player that I became.

SUE MERZ
I was cut from the national team early in ’97 by Ben Smith. It was told to me, probably in not so many words, that the majority of the team was going to be training with Mike Boyle that summer in Boston, so he said you might want to join that little group, and I said, “Okay.” [Coach Smith] wasn’t quick with his praise, but he definitely saw an improvement in my fitness and in how I was playing toward the end of the summer. It helped me understand it was more of a business decision to cut me, or at least, to give me a push to train harder.

Feeling like she needed a break from hockey at the end of her sophomore season at Dartmouth, goalie Sarah Tueting took nearly six months off to explore everything college life had to offer. Then an unexpected and comically tepid invitation, in retrospect, was extended to Tueting by Coach Smith for a national team tryout in 1996.

SARAH TUETING | #29 | Goalie
When Ben called I didn’t know anything about him. He’s like, You know what, your evaluations at camp were not good, but I’ve talked to the coaches in the league and everybody says we should take a look at you, so I’m inviting you to camp. And I was like, Oh. That’s — quite the invitation. [Laughter]

Tueting was named to the national team, but there were no guarantees she would hold her roster spot for the nearly two years until the start of the Olympic Games in ’98. But the level of play she had experienced at that tryout was enough to get her back in pads and on the ice.

SARAH TUETING
I vividly remember calling my parents from the pay phone at the Olympic Training Center and being like, So, I think I’m not going to go back to school in two weeks and instead, I’m going to play hockey.
 
GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
Once I went back to those tryouts I really respected [Coach Smith]. I sat down with him at one point and said, “I have a job to go back to. I should be starting my career. Where do I stand in all of this?” and he said, “I can’t make any guarantees but I see you as having a lot of potential and I’d hate to see you not try to do this.” So I think that that relationship right then and there really started to grow and I started to trust him. 
 
Several tryouts were held across the country in an attempt to find every drop of hockey talent the U.S. had to offer for the Olympics in Nagano. The top players assembled for a camp in Lake Placid at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

BEN SMITH
What we also did in conjunction with that Lake Placid tryout in August of ’97, we ran open tryouts across the country in Boston, Michigan, L.A. and Anaheim. We probably had one in the Twin Cities, too. We had a cattle call. We had big turnouts. We tried to find every female that owned a pair of skates. USA Hockey thought it was a good opportunity to maybe introduce the sport and get people talking about it.

KARYN BYE DIETZ
There were 54 women [invited to Lake Placid] and it was a week-long tryout. It was intense. It was on-ice practices, games, off-ice testing, and at the end of the week they called us into the gym and they selected 25 players to be on what they called the Pre-Olympic Team.

CAMMI GRANATO
A lot of times when you go to a tryout it’s chaos. There’s no system. There’s no consistent line mates. The pucks are bouncing all over the place. It’s really hard to pick a team if you don’t know players.
 
BEN SMITH
The thing that struck me right away was what good athletes these women were. I say athletes in that they were in most cases multi-faceted athletes that had played numerous sports at the high school level, or even at the collegiate level, so that they were well rounded in their athleticism.

GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
We had outstanding athletes. Colleen Coyne was playing baseball at one of the highest levels. She could have gone further with that and I think Cammi was playing team handball and potentially could have become an Olympic athlete at team handball.
 
KATIE KING CROWLEY
I wanted to play hockey and I actually played softball as well in college [at Brown University], so I knew I wanted to play both sports and see where that took me.

After whittling the tryout participants down to a roster of 25 women, the U.S. team and Coach Smith embarked on a 13-game tour with their Canadian counterparts across North America. For those U.S. players who had suffered repeated loses in big games to Canadian teams of the previous seven years, the 13 games represented an opportunity to build the confidence necessary to contend for gold at the Olympic Games.
 
SARAH TUETING
The [veterans on the team] had never beaten Canada. For the rookies coming in, there was no history. I was just psyched, like, Gosh, that’s a whole bunch of good games, especially for a goalie. If our team is that much better than the other team, a goalie doesn’t get to participate much. [Laughter] You play, but you’re just hoping to not make a mistake and have it be 7-1.  I loved the idea of getting to play Canada that many times.

BEN SMITH
It was obviously a great sparring opportunity and up until that time Canada had kind of dominated the sport. That really set the bar for the rivalry.
 
CAMMI GRANATO
At that point we had never been together as a team for that long. It was the first time. It was amazing. We were all on a high. We were doing something that we never thought we’d get to do. We were playing in professional arenas with big crowds on a tour with hype around it and media around it. People never even knew women played hockey.

 
GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
I think back to my college days and there would literally be maybe 10 people in the stands and most of those would be parents and your close college friends. We had played, pretty much our entire lives, in front of empty facilities. To go to a place like Calgary, San Jose, I think we played in Salt Lake; to have that volume of people interested, cheering us on and having little girls come to get autographs after the game that was really special.
 
KATIE KING CROWLEY
I can’t remember exactly what building we were in but we were at an NHL game and practicing our autographs because we were getting asked to sign a lot of autographs at that point. We were fooling around with it and having fun with it and practicing our signatures.
 
CAMMI GRANATO
My brother Tony was playing in the pros at the time, and my other brothers played a little bit of pro and college. I saw the things they got. It always bugged me that because I was a girl I wasn’t allowed to do some of the things they were. We all grew up together playing. We all had the same passion, and here they got to go further in the sport. It was always really hard for me to see that. When I found out we were able to travel as a team, stay in amazing hotels, go into pro locker rooms and have your gear hanging up we all felt so lucky.

BEN SMITH
I always said, we could have played those games at three o’clock in the morning on August 3rd and the two teams would have risen to the occasion. I always felt like there was a responsibility in those games to have them be good games. For the sake of the growth of the sport.

SUE MERZ
We were in Calgary for a game and I looked up and this stadium, it felt huge. There were people all the way up to the rafters. It was so loud. It was fun to play in Canada because they always packed the building and it was fun to shut them up. So it’s a regular faceoff in the right hand circle, I was on the bench. Puck drops and the next thing you know, the light behind the goalie is on in the net. Literally the puck dropped and the light goes on. Sandra Whyte off the faceoff took a snapshot. I don’t even think the puck hit the ice. It went in in the upper corner of the net. It shut the place right up. The place was like crickets. We were like, What the f— just happened?

CAMMI GRANATO
My most favorite year I’ve ever played hockey was that pre-Olympic tour and that Olympics, just because you couldn’t have made the situation better. The team was the best team I had ever been on as far as chemistry. The expectations were not there for anybody. Everyone was a rookie together, so it was pretty amazing.

— THE CHRISTMAS CUTS —

On the pre-Olympic tour with Canada, the U.S. won six of the 13 games. Before taking a break for the Christmas holiday, the players faced the final Olympic roster cut. One goalie and two skaters would be let go to get the roster down to 20. The team had rotated three goalies during the tour Erin Whitten, Sarah Tueting and Sara DeCosta. 

SARAH TUETING
Erin Whitten was considered the best goalie in the world. She was a shoo-in for the Olympics, so that left just one open roster spot for a goalie. It was a longshot for me, but she had a very difficult pre-Olympic tour and was cut at Christmas, in the final cut.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
Three of the best players on the team got released, Erin Whitten, Steph O’Sullivan and Kelly O’Leary. It just goes to show you can’t rest on your laurels and you don’t know what a coach wants.

GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
I always saw myself as a bubble player right up until those final cuts.

SUE MERZ
During the season, one cut in particular was pretty heart-breaking. One of my best friends got cut, sort of out of the blue. It was probably two weeks prior to the final cuts.
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
I remember coach being kind of nervous about the final cuts. I think he felt bad, too. He’d gotten to know us pretty well and I think it’s tough then to make that cut.
 
GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
I can’t imagine being the coaching staff and trying to make the cuts for that final Olympic team. I think what it came down to at that point was team chemistry and which players were going to be able to come together at the end of the day and pull it off.
 
SUE MERZ
Everybody was essentially staring at the floor just hoping to hear their name called. That was my experience. I was one of the bubble players and I knew that. Coach Smith basically walked in and said, “Here’s the roster for the Olympic team.” He rattled off the names, and I heard mine and I didn’t hear anybody else’s.
 
CAMMI GRANATO
I remember the room, specifically in the room, listening to your names getting called. That is excruciating. It is excruciating. I think they’re going alphabetically from what I remember, and you can’t figure out if they passed the G’s or not. You’re so focused on trying to hear your name, and then you don’t even know if one of your really good friends is on that team or not.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
I just remember hearing my name, then just being, like, giddy inside.

GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
Being a “U” and sitting there for that long and then once your name gets called — especially since I had been cut once before — I was in disbelief. Did he really say my name? Or am I just imagining he said my name? Or am I sitting in this room when I should be getting up and leaving? Your mind goes through all sorts of weird, funny things.
 
CAMMI GRANATO
When the team gets picked everyone’s just stunned, like you’ve seen a ghost. Then you start looking around and it hits you, like, Oh my gosh, this is real.

“Wearing USA on the front of your jersey never wears off, and when you see it against other countries…that is magic.”

Sarah Tueting

KATIE KING CROWLEY
You kind of stop listening [laughter] because you’re like, Oh my God. I just got called! I can’t remember one name after that.
 
SARAH TUETING
To actually be in the room when you’re name is called…it’s almost as good as the feeling of winning the gold medal. It’s just a dream come true. Who gets to go to the Olympics? Who gets to go to the Olympics? Nobody!
 
SUE MERZ
I did find out from one of the inside people who I was friendly with that at the end of the day, the cuts came down to me and one other defenseman. When I heard my name — my name was before their name — I was just fully relieved.
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
At that time there were no cellphones so you’d run out to the hallway and get on a pay phone and call home to tell mom and dad you made the team. It was almost like the first part of my dream had come true.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
There was a line for the two pay phones in the training center, and I was like, I’m just going to run into town. I’m a kid, I’ve got tons of energy. I sprinted halfway into town, at least a half a mile, to find a payphone. It was one of my proudest moments to be able to call [my family]. My dad picked up. He was waiting by the phone. My dad sort of first signed me up and got me involved in hockey, and to be able to tell him and my mom and my sister and brother I made the team, it was a pretty amazing moment for me. 

SUE MERZ
From Christmas until we left to go to Japan, I was thinking, Just don’t get hurt. Just don’t get hurt. Just don’t get hurt. It was a loop in my mind. Just don’t get hurt.

CAMMI GRANATO
I remember sitting down with a group of veterans before the Olympics and asking, “What are we missing?” We realized what we needed was that unity as a team. We decided to give up the individuality. We gave up the Type A personalities who wanted to be the person. Even our goalies got along and they were supporting each other.

SARAH TUETING
Sara DeCosta and I really pulled for each other and we were really competitive with each other, which is nearly impossible to do. [Laughter] It’s nearly impossible. It was really a unique relationship, and I still love her.

CAMMI GRANATO
That was our team.

BEN SMITH
The trip to Nagano was something that team took hold of. They were on a mission.

KATIE KING CROWLEY
I remember [the takeoff on the flight to Japan] was really bumpy and I was like, We’re not going to make it there. I literally remember it being so turbulent and I was like, Oh my God, are we not going to make it? What’s going to happen if we don’t make it?

CAMMI GRANATO
The coolest thing about the trip to the Olympics was we weren’t just going, we had a real chance at the gold medal. We met a kid who was a cross-country skier on our flight to Japan and we started to realize, Oh, wow, we’re part of a bigger thing than just the hockey team. He was going over there and his goal was to place in the 30s. It put it into perspective. We thought, Wow, we have a chance and this guy’s goal is different.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
I think the distinction for that team was, while I was a rookie and young age-wise, we were all rookies. That was our first Olympics.

— WELCOME TO THE OLYMPICS —

GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
We flew into Osaka and went through athlete processing to get all our stuff. That was awesome! You get a shopping cart and you load it up with Olympic stuff. We’ve never been given much of anything. USA Hockey gave us some stuff but nothing like how we needed a shopping cart at the Olympics to get our swag.
 
KATIE KING CROWLEY
We get one of everything? We get all this stuff? Is this for real? At the end are they going to be like, You are charged $5,000 dollars! Every single one of us was walking through that room in awe and laughing and having an unbelievable time. It did make it feel a little more real.

SARAH TUETING
It was so exciting to go through processing. After that you’re like a real Olympian. There are Olympic rings on your coat! I think we were just pinching ourselves the whole time.
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
I just couldn’t wait to play games. I’m a very antsy person, I’m kind of a hyper person and I just wanted to play the games right away.
 
SUE MERZ
[Nagano] was also the first chance for the NHL guys to be at the Olympics. It was awesome to watch Sergei Fedorov and Wayne Gretzky and whomever else walk by in their gear as we were either getting on or off the ice. As athletes, we looked up to these guys because there were no women to look up to from a hockey perspective.

KATIE KING CROWLEY
We went to the cafeteria one day and I was getting a drink and there was a guy standing next to me and he says, “Hi, how are you?” And I’m like, “Good. How are you?” and then I look at him and I’m like, Oh my God! It’s Wayne Gretzky! and I turn around and I look back at my teammates and I’m like, “You guys, Wayne Gretzky just said hello to me!” [Laughter]

“You just wouldn’t believe what it feels like to be somewhere that you’ve dreamed of your whole life.”

Cammi Granato

ANGELA RUGGIERO
I was a kid, so I was going to soak up that [Olympic] experience. I went to have a kimono made in the village. I remember going into the arcade and watching Jaromir Jagr play video games. I was enamored by him.

SARAH TUETING
I remember getting a haircut at the Athletes’ Village because they would rub your head for an hour. It was the best massage ever; just to get a haircut! We were kids in a candy store, but with a very defined, very real, purpose.

CAMMI GRANATO
The mood that we were all in, it was always really, really fun and really positive. There wasn’t a ton of tension. There wasn’t a ton of pressure.

GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
We did stay super-focused and I think part of that was that many of us were older at that point. We understood what the mission was and that other things could wait. I’m not saying we were robots. We had a lot of fun. We knew when to let down and enjoy ourselves and be funny and when to really focus. I think that’s an important part of a successful team.
 
SUE MERZ
I think we did enough work with our sports psychologist Peter Haberl to really not think about it as being anything special when we got on the ice. We worked so hard at making sure it wasn’t different so we could just go to work and not be overwhelmed by the different venue and the surrounding hoopla that was the Olympics.
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
We were there a couple weeks before games even started. I remember a couple of practices we were doing our sprints and Coach [Tom] Mutch would sprint with us. He’d come down to the corner and spray us with snow [with his skates]. It got us laughing and got us smiling.

SARAH TUETING
The first time you skate over the Olympic rings, I mean, it’s unbelievable. Wearing USA on the front of your jersey never wears off, and when you see it against other countries…that is magic.

CAMMI GRANATO
The night before the Opening Ceremony, it was at 10 a.m. the next day because of TV, I remember six of us in our little dorm put on all of our Opening Ceremony gear. We put everything on; the snow pants and the hats and gloves and we were just walking around the Athlete Village waving and practicing for the Opening Ceremony. It was a really good way to get the nerves out.
 
SUE MERZ
Walking into the Opening Ceremony is such an emotional experience; walking through that tunnel. Having that culmination of feelings of reaching the summit, and that was the summit. It wasn’t winning the gold medal. It was walking into the Olympics, when you think about all the adversity and hard work that had to go into getting to a place like that. That was amazing. And that I won’t ever forget.

 
CAMMI GRANATO
I hadn’t seen my family [since arriving in Japan]. My little brother, for some reason, as he was walking in for the Opening Ceremony, he was looking down to where we were walking, and he yelled for us and found us! I remember looking up and he was crying from excitement. He was so proud. He totally shared the moment. And I turned the corner walking down the tunnel and I started crying. You just wouldn’t believe what it feels like to be somewhere that you’ve dreamed of your whole life.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
You’re part of this bigger thing that is more than just your sport, or your country. It’s not a world championship. It’s something much bigger. For me that’s what I saw in the Opening Ceremony. I’m on the IOC Executive Board now, but that was my first exposure to the Olympics, and what the Olympics meant and how you feel as an athlete.

— THE ‘MEANINGLESS’ GAME —

After the Olympic cauldron was lit in Nagano, and the Games declared open, the U.S. and Canada started their march toward a first round, Valentine’s Day date on the ice. In addition to the two hockey superpowers, the six team Olympic tournament included Finland, Sweden, China and the host nation, Japan. Each team played five round-robin games after which, the top two teams would play for gold and silver while the third and fourth ranked teams battled for bronze.

The U.S. won each of their first four games by a margin of 26-3. Canada also won handedly, scoring 24 goals and allowing five. 

The draw for the medal round games had been established two days before the end of the first round. The U.S. and Canada teams, both undefeated, would play for gold. China and Finland, both with two wins and two loses, were going to the bronze medal game, while Japan and Sweden were unable to post a single victory over the first four games.

This led many in the media, as well as fans, to label the first round U.S. vs. Canada game as “meaningless.”    

GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
The first round game against Canada was meaningless, but it meant everything in a different way. 
 
BEN SMITH
There was a part of the game that was, it wasn’t meaningless, because you’re playing Canada, but in that situation you really wanted to make sure you won the right game.
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
I don’t know if I want to use the word vicious, I mean, I truly believe we hated them. We wanted to win so bad.

SUE MERZ
I played for a season and a half in Canada from ’96-‘97. A fair number of those athletes that we faced in Nagano were my friends at that point. So in the sense of there being a rivalry, we’ve hated them since — I still can’t listen to the Canadian National Anthem. Really. It is what it is.
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
No matter when you play Canada whether it’s for a gold medal game or a scrimmage, the intensity, the rivalry is there. I don’t remember any other team that gave us such a rival. I loved every time we played Canada, absolutely loved it. Because I think it brought out the best in all of us and it brought out the best in them.
 
From the first puck drop, it was clear the game held a significant level of importance for both teams. Canada scored first on a shot by Lori Dupuis just three minutes and a second into the opening period, but before the first act came to a close, Cammi Granato tied the game at 1-1 for the U.S.

The game would remain tied for the entire duration of the second period, which included a predetermined goalie change with Sara DeCosta subbing in for starter, Sarah Tueting. In the final ten seconds of the period, U.S. forward Vicki Movsessian was called for high-sticking after the blade of her stick scraped the throat of Canada’s Danielle Goyette. 

Goyette headed to the bench writhing in pain. Movsessian parked herself in the penalty box to serve a four-minute double minor which bled into the third period. Canada came out and scored three consecutive power-play goals, one coming on a 5-on-3 advantage, in the first five and a half minutes of the final frame. Coach Smith had seen enough after Canada’s Therese Brisson found the back of the net, going five hole on DeCosta with a shot from the blue line.  
 
GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
When they started scoring Coach Smith brought us in for a timeout. I don’t think I was ever particularly worried. I never felt overly hyped or worried during that game but I think when Coach Smith brought us in for the timeout he said, “Hey, just relax. This means nothing. We already know we’re playing them [in the final]. You guys just need to relax and play your game and everything will be fine.” He wasn’t mad at us, he wasn’t screaming his head off at us.

CAMMI GRANATO
If you’re ever down to Canada 4-1, you’re not coming back on them. There’s no chance. Never in our history of playing them have we been able to do that. Let alone beat them very much.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
We hadn’t beaten Canada in any world championships. They had our card. They had a lot of confidence.

SUE MERZ
I just remember watching them keep scoring, thinking, Ugh, these guys, I can’t stand them. There was an odd sort of a calm though when they piled on those goals.

KATIE KING CROWLEY
There are those moments where you can start to panic as a group and start blaming people and calling people out, but we didn’t.
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
We were upset with ourselves because we weren’t playing well. It wasn’t like, Guys, this game doesn’t matter, who cares? It was, Let’s go!
 
SUE MERZ
We weren’t in despair by any means. We were like, God damn it! Let’s just get going here. We’re better than this. None of us, from 1-to-20, panicked. 
 
CAMMI GRANATO
I remember my brother Tony saying he was up in the stands thinking, O.K., it’s fine. It’s O.K. He was talking to himself, It’s gonna be fine, they’re gonna play them in three days, never even imagining we could come back and win.
 
BEN SMITH
Maybe with the tension building for that showdown with Canada we might have gotten ahead of ourselves early on in the game. I tried to get them relaxed. I knew how good a team we had. I just wanted to make sure we didn’t let things slip away and get off kilter because we still had four periods of hockey to play. You have to be careful that you’re not result oriented, you have to be more performance oriented, and we just went back to performing.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
Right after that timeout, from that moment on, we dominated.

“We had 20 pros. We had 20 people who were hockey aficionados.”

Head Coach Ben Smith

KARYN BYE DIETZ
Everybody started playing well after the timeout and the lines were clicking and the passes were connecting. I don’t know if Canada got a little confident when they went up 4-1 and just kind of sat back? Maybe a little bit of that and a combination of us turning it up a notch.
 
SUE MERZ
I was on the top of the point and we had this amazing power play goal that sparked everything. It was a tick-tack goal. It lit a fire under our butts. We had such a good power play at the Olympics. If people got penalties against us, they paid.
 
BEN SMITH
Everything just seemed to come our way and that team just did what they had to do. It was fun to watch it.
 
The U.S. women did go to work. First it was Laurie Baker cleaning up the trash in front of the net to make it 4-2. Then the U.S. scored back-to-back power play goals, one by Cammi Granato and the other by Jenny Schmidgall. Tricia Dunn got into the act 23 seconds later with the go-ahead goal. 

With the score now 5-4 in favor of the U.S., Lisa Brown-Miller scored her first goal of the game with three minutes remaining. Laurie Baker put the period on the U.S.’ scoring attack with an empty netter at just over a minute remaining in the game. With chants of “USA, USA, USA” filling the stadium, time expired. The final score  USA 7, Canada 4. 

In 12 minutes of play the U.S. women scored six unanswered goals against Canada, the team they had never beaten in a major international tournament, and they did it at the Olympics. For the women wearing red, white and blue that turnaround win was loaded with meaning.

KARYN BYE DIETZ
I don’t know what came over us, but we all of a sudden clicked. It’s fun when you come back on a team like that and score some goals to win the game. I truly believe that game meant more to us than anything.
 
CAMMI GRANATO
Deep down inside I think all of us understood that we just beat that team in one period; with a big comeback. It gave us another piece of confidence.
 
SUE MERZ
At the end of that game we felt pretty invincible.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
That win set the tone, more than anything we could have done, for the final. It was kind of like the 1980 Miracle on Ice game when the U.S. beat the Russians, then they had to go and beat Finland [to win the gold medal]. But the real game [in Nagano] was the [first round game]. People talk a lot about the final game, but to me that first game was sort of everything.
 
GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
I think turning that game around and winning; putting a seed of doubt in Canada’s mind was really the biggest part of enabling us to be victorious the next game. If you look back at our history against Canada in any major tournament, yeah we won Three Nations in ’97, but when U.S. played Canada, no matter what, the seed of doubt that existed in the U.S. mind came back to bite us every time. That was the difference for us in that 7-4 win. We expected to win.
 
CAMMI GRANATO
I remember Ben Smith in the locker room afterward saying, “Guys, listen. This was only for a doughnut. You didn’t win a gold medal here. We gotta rein it in.” He was worried we were getting too excited, because we were!

— CAUGHT IN A CONTROVERSY —

In the aftermath of the U.S. scoring barrage, someone from the Canadian team implied to the media that a U.S. player had directed insults toward their forward Danielle Goyette, related to the recent passing of her father. 

On February 7, the day of the Opening Ceremony in Nagano, Goyette received news that her father had died in a Quebec hospital, losing his battle with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Sandra Whyte, known as “Whytie” to her teammates, was later named in reports as the accused U.S. player caught in the controversy.

 
SARAH TUETING
Whytie was my roommate in Nagano, and one of my closest friends on the team. In that game, Danielle Goyette told the media that she had said something about her dad dying. You have to know Whytie. She would never. She might have said, you know, whatever gets said a dozen times on a hockey rink during any given game. Women trash talk more than men. But she would never. I mean, never, say something about another player’s family.

CAMMI GRANATO
Whatever Danielle Goyette had heard or thought she’d heard, she believed. 
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
Here’s the deal, for them to say Sandra Whyte said something inappropriate about Danielle Goyette’s father passing away, it’s absolutely ludicrous. Out of all the players on our team, Sandra Whyte is probably the quietest; the most well-respected; never really said anything bad about anybody.

 
SUE MERZ
For her to say something derogatory about this woman’s father who just passed away didn’t happen. She may have had some choice words for her but it had nothing to do with her father.
 
CAMMI GRANATO
It did fuel a lot of unnecessary hate toward Sandra. It was the first time we had email at the Olympics and her inbox was flooded with hate mail. We had to not get caught up in it and Sandra did an amazing job with that. The team was really good at protecting her.

SARAH TUETING
Sandra was upset, but if anything, it focused her more. I really looked up to her, really respected her, and I still do. She was my mentor. She was so solid for me, as a rookie, just to be around. She didn’t get rattled and instead used it to focus even more. I think it was the most beautiful thing to watch.
 
CAMMI GRANATO
We realized the power of the media at that point, because whether things are true or not they’re printed.

KARYN BYE DIETZ
I give Sandra a lot of credit for coming back and playing the way she did in the gold medal game after that.

— BACK TO HOCKEY —

With three days until the gold medal game, the team worked to put the Goyette-Whyte controversy behind them and focused on preparations to play in the first Olympic final in women’s hockey. 
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
We tried to stay focused. We tried to keep busy with practice on the ice. It was a matter of staying focused and preparing yourself knowing that you had three days until the biggest game of your life.
 
SUE MERZ
There was one practice between the first Canada game and the gold medal game where Coach Smith, after practice, sat us down in the locker room and gave us this really heartfelt lecture, about where we were, what it meant and how much he cared about us and how we’re going to wake up on March 1st and not realize how this had happened so quickly, and then we’ll be 20 years down the line and thinking, I can’t believe that happened to us.

“It was kind of like the 1980 Miracle on Ice game when the U.S. beat the Russians…the real game [in Nagano] was the [first round game].”

Angela Ruggiero

GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
I did a little sightseeing with my then-fiancée and parents to the temples and some touristy things, just to get away from the Olympic Village for a little bit; and I answered lots of emails. There was lots of fan mail. It was just nice to know people were rooting for us at home. Kids I grew up playing hockey with reached out just to say good luck. That was really neat just to know that kids you started the whole adventure with earlier in your life were still wishing you well.
 
SUE MERZ
I can only speak for myself, but I was extremely anxious and nervous about the gold medal game. I was basically crapping my pants. I was nervous as anything, so I called up Peter, our sports psychologist, and I asked him to sit down with me the day before the final. We met in the village in a little café and I just bawled. I just let all this emotion out, which I’m sure he probably laughed at. We talked for about 45 minutes and he calmed me down. He said, “So what if you win or lose? It doesn’t matter. Just go play.” The day of the game I felt comfortable, you know, as comfortable as you could. But that was big.
 
CAMMI GRANATO
I remember not being able to sleep for two days. I wrote in my journal that 60 minutes of hockey would determine two completely different outcomes. Even with me staying up and thinking about that stuff, I never felt pressure.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
I don’t remember being super nervous. I think I was more anxious to start the game, like I wanted to play the game. Coming out of that [first round] win, you can imagine the momentum we had. I think maybe because I was younger, you don’t know what you don’t know. You’re just like, Let’s play on! It’s that quiet confidence that I had as a brash, young 18 year old like, C’mon Canada!
 
GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
Falling asleep was a challenge, but I had my little mental routine that I would do every night to calm myself and hopefully bring sleep. In the Olympic Village the walls were super thin so noise was an issue, so I always wore earplugs, but it was more about being able to settle your mind and stop it from racing.

KATIE KING CROWLEY
Before the final game I went to everybody’s dorm room and played a song for every player on our team. I kept going to their rooms to play [one of the official songs from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics], “Reach” by Gloria Estefan. [Laughter] It was funny, just one of those cheesy kind of things.
 
BEN SMITH
I just remember how hard we practiced. I remember pulling the reins back a little bit because they were obviously feeling pretty good, it’s always like that after a big game. The smell of victory at practices is pretty heavy. I just didn’t want them to get intoxicated with it.
 
GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
I specifically remember our final practice because I only took one stick to the practice rink thinking, What are the odds that I ever break a stick anyway? And I broke my stick in the final practice.

CAMMI GRANATO
Ben Smith’s quote to us in the last day of practice, he loved golf analogies, so he was saying, “If they make a 20-foot putt, so what? We’re going to make a 20-foot putt right on top of theirs.” So who cares how good they play, we have to worry about ourselves, in other words.
 
SARAH TUETING
The practice before the gold medal game, we still didn’t know who was playing goalie. I think Coach Smith told us the day before the game. It was like nothing. It wasn’t a sit down. He never gave us a lot of time to think about it. He was just skating by and said to me, “You’re on for tomorrow.” 

— GOLD MEDAL GAMEDAY —

The U.S. and Canada met in the gold medal game on February 17, 1998 at 6:00 p.m. in Nagano. That’s 4:00 a.m. on the East Coast back home in the U.S. CBS decided to air the game at 7:00 a.m. ET, on delay, for U.S. viewers.

KARYN BYE DIETZ
On the bus going to the gold medal game, I remember watching a video our sports psychologist had put together. The video showed all the times we played Canada. At that point they had won seven games and we had won seven, [since the start of the pre-Olympic tour]. Peter compiled all these goals we had scored, and then the video showed our goalies coming up with all these amazing saves. I wanted to jump on the ice and play right away.

“We had such a good power play at the Olympics. If people got penalties against us, they paid.”

Sue Merz

SARAH TUETING
It’s a weird memory, but I remember feeling like, This is a different kind of bus ride.
 
CAMMI GRANATO
Sarah Tueting was literally like, Bring it on. When your goalie is feeling like that, things are good. She was like, Bring whatever you want at me, and I’ll save it. She literally had that attitude for the gold medal game.

SARAH TUETING
I always wanted the start. I do know some goalies, they’re afraid. But for me, again, possibly to my detriment in terms of interpersonal situations, I wanted it. I wanted the start. Goalie is a reactive position, but if your mentality is to react, the puck is going to hit you and go in. My entire mindset was always, F—— bring it. Give me your best shot.
 
CAMMI GRANATO
Looking back at the locker room the day of the game, there was a really good vibe. We were all focused, but it wasn’t pressure. Which is really different. I can say that because when you look at four years later in Salt Lake City it was a different feel in the locker room.
 
GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
The locker rooms were always fun. There was always somebody doing something goofy to keep it light and lively and then when it was time to focus and be serious we were.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
I loved to dance in the locker room, and they allowed me to act my age in a lot of ways. It was like I had 19 older sisters. They made fun of me a lot. I was the kid, of course. I didn’t get treated like an adult. I enjoyed being the youngest [on the team].
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
I remember sitting in my stall and I got a telegram from Bill Baker who played on the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. Bill Baker had heard me say on TV that I used to pretend to play as #6 Bill Baker in my basement as a kid. He sent me a telegram that said, “Good Luck, bring home the gold!” I was just like, Holy buckets! This is huge, right? This is amazing. I taped it up in my locker.
 
CAMMI GRANATO
We were nervous, there’s no doubt. I’m not saying we weren’t nervous. I remember jumping on the ice at warm up and flying out. We ran out through the tunnel and everyone was waving flags in the stadium — at warm ups. All I could think about was like, Oh my gosh, I’m playing in a gold medal game. We’re here.
 

As the team was preparing in the locker room, Sara DeCosta decided she wanted her goalie partner, Sarah Tueting, to wear something she had worn inside her chest protector as a good luck charm in Nagano, a guardian angel pin she had received from her parents.
 
SARAH TUETING
That was a total surprise. Honestly, that’s who Sara DeCosta is. As I was getting dressed, which is dangerous territory for goalies. You don’t talk to pitchers, you don’t talk to goalies. The fact that she, sort of, “interrupted” my pre-game routine was a little out of the ordinary. But it was such a sweet gesture and very moving, so I had her pin with me during the gold medal game.
 
SUE MERZ
In warmups, I’m in line behind Alana Blahoski and we look at each other and we’re just coursing with energy and excitement and nerves or whatever, and she says to me, “It’s time to open a can of whoop-ass.” [Laughter] It was very funny. “Time to open a can of whoop-ass!” And I just laughed. That kind of took the nerves out of it a little.
 
GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
Something I started way back during the pre-Olympic tour is, I would have Bob Allen, who had been with the team for forever through the pre-Olympic tour and through the Olympics; I always had Bob kiss my stick before any game. So the one day on the pre-Olympic tour I had Bob kiss my stick on the forehand and the backhand I scored two goals. So that became my pre-game routine with Bob.
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
The last thing I remember thinking to myself was, Go out and have fun, you can’t do anything else right now. You can’t prepare any more, you can’t do another sprint, eat any better. You can’t do anything else right now other than go out and play your game and have fun.

BEN SMITH
The gold medal game is a big game, but I think you have to try and keep an even keel. There wasn’t much left to talk about in regard to how we were covering our own end or how we were killing penalties or how we were breaking out or how we were taking face-offs. We had 20 pros. We had 20 people who were hockey aficionados.
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
Canada always played physical hockey. I think that’s just kind of how they’re taught. We just wanted to continue where we left off in that game three days before. We knew they were going to be physical. We knew everything about their team. They knew everything about our team.

The first period was physical and finished in a scoreless tie. The U.S. put eight shots on goal to Canada’s nine, and each team had a chance on the power play, but were unable to produce the game’s first goal.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
Just getting out of the gates, I think both teams were nervous and you could tell in the play. There was a lot of choppiness going on, not a lot of flow. 

Things started to turn around for the U.S. less than a minute into the second period. Canada’s Nancy Drolet was called for tripping after she dove into the legs of Tara Mounsey in an attempt to prevent Mounsey from taking a shot. The U.S. went back on the power play; a significant cause for concern for the Canadian women.

SUE MERZ
Our power play was ridiculous. They got a penalty and we just went to work on our power play.
 
CAMMI GRANATO
We were scoring almost at will on our power play. That was one of our most dangerous tools for our team, and we were successful on the power play in the gold medal game. That was a difference.

With only six seconds left on Drolet’s 2-minute minor, U.S. forward Gretchen Ulion scored the first goal of an Olympic gold medal game in women’s hockey, with Sandra Whyte and Sue Merz recording assists.
 
SUE MERZ
The fact that Gretchen was able to score that first goal, it was like what we had been doing all season. That was the whole point; to be as normal as we had been. Getting on the scoreboard first was huge and being a part of the goal felt special. Being on the ice, getting a point, and a +1, contributing to the team, that feeling was awesome.
 
Ulion’s goal went unanswered as the second period ended with the U.S. in control, 1-0. At the start of the third and final period the U.S. led Canada in shots 19-13, and in penalty minutes, 6-4.

Both teams were charged up in the opening minutes of the third period. Body checks and thrown elbows, which would have otherwise drawn penalties, were let go by the referees. Both teams had opportunities to score, with Canada finding multiple chances on the breakaway, but Sarah Tueting displayed her unyielding brilliance between the pipes for the U.S.

The wild back-and-forth chewed up most of the first 10 minutes of the third period. After 9 minutes 37 seconds of play, Danielle Goyette of Canada was called for body checking after she collided with Shelley Looney in the neutral zone. The U.S. was back on the power play.

With the puck down deep, Gretchen Ulion made a pass to a perfectly-positioned Sandra Whyte at the point. Whyte fired a one-timer on net. Canada’s goalie Manon Rheaume made the save, but Shelley Looney, camped out near the crease, got her stick on the puck and stuffed it in, giving the U.S. a 2-0 lead with 9:03 left in the game.
 
GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
The second goal Shelley Looney scored, I remember Ben Smith drawing it out, somebody else might remember it differently, but they were making adjustments for our typical power play, so the pass across the slot to Cammi wasn’t going to be there anymore. I remember Ben drew up exactly what we were going to do to counteract their penalty kill. The funny part is after we scored I thought it was Sandra Whyte who put the puck in on her first shot.  On TV you see me racing behind the net to go find Sandra who’s racing to find Shelley, because she knew Shelley scored. Shelley came towards me and I totally dissed her on my way to get to Sandra.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
A month before the Games started, Coach took me off the power play, and I was okay with that. There was no ego. I trusted Coach. I trusted the team. Sandra Whyte ended up being that point person on the power play. After her assist on the game winning goal to Shelley Looney, I thought, Good thing. I don’t know if I would have put the puck in the right place. 

CAMMI GRANATO
Being up by two goals is not a comfortable lead. You’re not feeling like you’ve got this. I guess in a gold medal game, until the buzzer sounds, you’re not feeling comfortable because you don’t want to sit back, but of course, a two goal lead can give you a lot of confidence that you can continue with the success you’re having in the game.
 
KATIE KING CROWLEY
We needed to finish the game. We needed to finish the full 60 minutes before we could start to celebrate.

After having to watch the U.S. score their second goal of the game from the penalty box, Danielle Goyette scored Canada its first goal of the game ten seconds after Tara Mounsey went to the box for body checking. 

The goal breathed new life into the Canadian team who, at that point, had not put a puck past a U.S. goalie in 70 minutes of hockey, going back to their first round meeting three days before the gold medal game. Canada had four minutes to tie or take the lead.
 
SUE MERZ
They scored to make it 2-1 with four minutes left in the game, and we were now on our heels. You could see momentum shift in their favor. That definitely took the wind out of our sails, in my opinion. This is just me, I don’t know how anybody else felt, but I remember thinking, Okay, just get on the ice and off the ice and don’t let anything bad happen! As a defenseman, I think my shifts were 30 seconds. So I would get on the ice, get off, I’m serious, probably 30-40 seconds tops. Sit down on the bench. Look at the clock, and it was like the clock never changed. I was like, You’ve got to be kidding me. This clock is not moving. I felt like I was in a nightmare.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
When they scored that goal I think I was out on the ice for that. I think that shook us up a bit, but if you look at the way we responded, we didn’t back in to protect our lead. We kept playing our game. We kept being aggressive.
 
GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
When they scored that one goal it was one of those moments where had we allowed that seed of doubt to continue to creep in it could have really affected us. But we just put our heads down and knew that we had to finish the job.
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
Obviously they made it a little bit closer. But I still had this sense of calm about me. It was a sense of confidence that we were going to win. You just felt it.

CAMMI GRANATO
I do remember a little bit of chaos on Canada’s bench. And I thought, We can capitalize on this. They’re feeling it.
 
SUE MERZ
The fact that Sarah Tueting made a ridiculous toe save with a couple minutes to go; if you watch the replay, I’m diving at this girl. Diving to try and block the puck. And it misses me and Sarah gets it with her toe. And it was like, if that had gone in I would have probably wanted to commit suicide.
 

 
SARAH TUETING
Something happened behind the net, and it was a surprise pass out in front. That’s one of the hardest things for a goalie because you don’t have a lot of time to cut the angle. It’s a surprise, and on that save my body just did it. I didn’t do it. My body just did it. I had such an interesting reaction to it in the moment, which was, Yeah, my body did that without me. That was really cool. It felt like something was just working through me in that way. So that was a pretty profound experience that I wasn’t really able to articulate until later. I think I told my family. I probably didn’t tell my teammates because they would have just thought I was insane. [Laughter]

ANGELA RUGGIERO
My nickname back then was “Rugger” which I despise to this day, but that’s what it was. I was about to jump out on the ice toward the end of the game, during that last penalty and Coach Mutch grabs my shoulder and says [enthusiastically], “Rugger, you ready?!” I said, “Yeah coach, I’m ready!” Like, Leave me alone, I’m good. [Laughter]

For the third time in the game, Sandra Whyte notched a point for the U.S. This time it was an empty net goal to seal the Olympic gold medal victory for the U.S. 
 
SUE MERZ
I was on the bench and we saw [Sandra Whyte] pop the puck off the boards and she was essentially alone. We all jumped up, she shot the puck and scored it. I jumped onto the boards. I was on my knees on the boards freaking out. I’m surprised I didn’t stand up on them. At the same time, I think we all looked up at the clock. I know I did, and I thought, Okay, can they score two goals in eight seconds? Is it feasible? Can they do this?
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
When Sandra Whyte scored that open netter to make it 3-1, a huge weight was lifted off, because you knew then that we were going to win. It was just an incredible feeling. I don’t think Coach Smith felt a sense of relief until the final buzzer went off.

BEN SMITH
I was probably thinking, Holy s—, we’re gonna win this thing.

Even though there were only eight ticks left on the clock, it was important to Coach Smith to project an appearance of complete focus as his team was on the verge of winning the first Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey.

BEN SMITH
I always felt, and still do, I feel like the team takes a little bit of its demeanor from the coach and if I’m frantic they might be frantic. 
 
CAMMI GRANATO
I literally was jumping, as high — I — it was — we knew it. Obviously, we knew it and it was — I can’t even describe it. We did it! We had done it. It was just pandemonium.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
If you look at any of the replays, you know, I was the biggest kid on the ice, [Sandra Whyte] scored that goal and I sprinted down the ice. I think I jumped up and tried to — level my impact? But I knocked the whole group over. It was pure joy. It was cool, I could see what was going on on the bench through the replay. [On the ice] we were just screaming, cage-to-cage, face-to-face just screaming. You can’t even believe what’s happening.
 
One face off stood in the way of the U.S. storming the ice. But with a bench full of players beside themselves with joy, the formality was an afterthought, albeit temporarily.
 
CAMMI GRANATO
Nobody knew who was supposed to go out on the ice [after Sandra scored]. I wanted to jump out on the ice. I remember thinking we had to actually get it together to get to the face off. I don’t think Coach Smith could get to the point where he said, Go take the face off.
 
SUE MERZ
Tom Mutch was the coach for the defense, and Coach Smith was the coach for the forwards. Mutchie tapped me and said, “Go, go, go! You guys, go!” I remember hearing there was mass confusion with the forwards, probably because Coach was flipping out inside.
 
KATIE KING CROWLEY
I was on the bench jumping up and down. Then Coach Smith is like, Okay, go out for the faceoff and I’m like, What? We have to go on the ice? Oh my god! I have to go out there a finish these last eight seconds and try to not celebrate? I think I threw my gloves and stick in the air before the buzzer even went off.
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
Looking back on it, I honestly can’t believe how focused we were. And how driven we were. And how mentally tough we were. We weren’t letting anything from the outside distract us. And I think Coach Smith did a nice job with that, he said, “You are not here to see mom and dad or visit Japan. You’re here for one reason and one reason only.”
 
KATIE KING CROWLEY
We had finally won the Olympic gold medal that we had strived for from the beginning but we also beat Canada in the biggest game you could have played. We hadn’t done that before.

SUE MERZ
As much as we’d beaten this team before it wasn’t in this kind of setting. We had never been able to close the deal on Canada.
  
CAMMI GRANATO
Talk about mental pressure, there’s a lot laying on Sarah Tueting as a goalie, and she came up big over and over. If you look at some of her saves. She was a key piece, and a bit underrated.
 
BEN SMITH
I’ve done four or five different Olympics with men and women and the thing about the Olympics that I’ve always found is that, and I don’t know how you do it, but you try to set the thing up so that you’re physically and mentally at a place where you don’t feel like you’re in any type of state other than that zone feeling athletes get. In Nagano, everything clicked.

— THE CELEBRATION —

CAMMI GRANATO
I would watch the World Series, a Super Bowl, a Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal game and I always wanted to know what it felt like to celebrate after winning. To me the celebration, watching the genuine joy on the athletes’ faces; I was drawn to that. It was so authentic. I watched the 1980 Olympic hockey team win and reenacted that in my basement as a kid. That’s what it felt like in Nagano. I was like, I am doing this, for real! I’m actually doing this, like the 1980 team!
 
GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
When the buzzer blew, everybody just jumped over the board. I believe there’s a picture of my stick probably twenty feet in the air. I mean we just threw everything and went to mob Sarah Tueting. I think it was one of those moments of just utter relief and pandemonium and joy. I don’t even know how to describe it other than we couldn’t get out there fast enough to go have our moment together.
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
I remember being one of the last ones to jump on top of the pile because I was just going berserk. Then I remember going over to the bench and [our equipment manager] Webby had the flag that I had brought. I guess the reason I had the flag is any time Canada beat us in the world championship, which was anytime I had played them, they’d always get the Canadian flags and skate around with them and it just rubbed me the wrong way. I just couldn’t wait to win and be able to get the American flag and wrap it around me.

 
BEN SMITH
I don’t want to say that I expected to win, but I just knew that our team was a good team and I knew those kids were great individual champions, but more importantly they were a championship team. I was just so happy for them because I knew what they put into it and knew that they were deserving of everything they had achieved.

SARAH TUETING
Your mind kind of shuts up for about five seconds when it finally gets what it wants. That’s a pretty great feeling.
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
At one point I remember going down to my knees [on the ice]. I was crying and Lisa Brown-Miller came up to me and said, “What’s wrong?” I said, “I can’t stop crying.”
 
BEN SMITH
We had played Canada a total of 15 times. I guess one of the things I always feel was very significant was that we were able to win eight of the 15.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
I did get the game puck. We were celebrating and I looked down the ice and the puck was just sitting there. I just skated down, picked it up, put it in my hockey pants and kept celebrating. I ended up giving it to my dad who couldn’t travel to Nagano. My mom was there but my dad couldn’t make it. When I got home, I told him it was like he was there. He passed away earlier this year in May, so my dad had the puck the whole time. I wasn’t going to ask him for it. I got it back after he passed. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. If anything, it’s something that keeps me connected with my dad. He always told me it was one of the greatest gifts he’d ever received.
 
CAMMI GRANATO
We went and regrouped in the locker room before they had the medal ceremony. In the locker room we were celebrating, we just couldn’t believe it, and then, I know me personally, I forgot about the medal because I was so focused on the fact that we had just won and that we were Olympic gold medalists. Then they said to us, “You guys have to go get the medals.” I remember thinking, Oh my gosh! Oh yeah, like, the medal! We get to see the medal!
 
GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
Myself, Sandra Whyte and Shelley Looney, it’s supposed to be random, but those of us that scored goals all randomly got selected for a drug test. So in the pandemonium, we all knew we had a certain amount of time to report [for testing] after we got our medals. So, unfortunately, that was on my mind.
 

GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
We felt like Cammi, and Karyn and Lisa Brown-Miller should be down towards the front but I don’t think we really paid much attention to where anybody else stood.

SUE MERZ
Somebody grabbed somebody’s hand and everybody just started holding hands. That was very spur of the moment. Nobody planned that, but it was totally how our team was. It was a very unifying feeling.

SARAH TUETING
I’ve played on men’s teams that have bonded and I’ve played on women’s teams that have bonded. When the women come together, and they actually get it right, there is something that is just so incredibly powerful about that. When I think about ’98 all I feel is love and companionship about those people; to this day.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
If there’s one distinguishing factor with that team versus a lot of the teams I’ve played on, [in ‘98] it was the epitome of a team. You can get lucky bounces and win on skill but when push comes to shove and you’re in that uphill battle, you need that true team.

KATIE KING CROWLEY
It was cool because Cammi, K.L. (Karyn Bye) and Brownie (Lisa Brown-Miller) were the first to get their medals. It was just really amazing to see them — they had been there from pretty much the beginning — get those medals put around their necks.

CAMMI GRANATO
When the medal went around my neck I wasn’t ready for the weight of it. It was heavier than I ever anticipated, and the emotion that came with that weight…I couldn’t contain it.

SARAH TUETING
Then the singing of the National Anthem, we just didn’t give a s—. You know? [Laughter] Who cares what you sound like? Hearing the National Anthem played for you — I had a lot of patriotism before, but now I have so much patriotism. I can’t really hear the National Anthem without thinking about our team, and singing it with my teammates in that moment. There’s so much joy that gets imprinted on you.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
That moment when you hear the anthem, that’s, by far, my favorite Olympic moment.

 
GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
The giddiness that followed even in our interviews afterward, I mean, I look at some of those interviews today and say, “Oh my gosh. What a buffoon.”  We were all kids again. We really were. I talked about maturity at 26, but once that happened, we were like little kids again.
 
SUE MERZ
We were all given cell phones on the Olympic team to communicate with team members and coaches. On a bus going to a practice, Angela Ruggiero tried to call home [on her cell phone] and it got through. That got around the bus in about two seconds. After the gold medal game, I picked up my phone and I called my best friend, Jeanine Sobek, who got cut in one of the last cuts for the Olympic team. Thinking about it afterwards I thought, Maybe this isn’t a good idea, but it was one of those things that felt right to call her to let her know how special she was — even thinking about it now I’m getting emotional — because she’s just amazing. And she was amazing about it. She was excited for us and she could have been there with us. I remember saying to her, “This is just as much yours,” and she was so gracious. She taught me a lot that day.

 
SARAH TUETING
I saw my parents walking on the sidewalk holding hands [from the team bus after the gold medal game]. My parents don’t say “I love you.” They’re mid-Western. They’re Minnesotan, and they don’t say “I love you.” But to see the impact of the gold medal win even on them — it touched me very deeply to see them that happy.

SUE MERZ
The beer was flowing that night and we went out. We just kind of blew it up which was a lot of fun. The next morning I remember waking up, opening my eyes, looking at the ceiling and thinking, Did that? Did that actually happen? I turned and I looked on my bedside table and I saw a medal case. I didn’t want to open it, but I did and there was my gold medal.
 
KATIE KING CROWLEY
I was out with the team. I remember Chris Bailey at one point saying, “You never know if you’re ever going to win one of these again.”

GRETCHEN ULION SILVERMAN
A lot of people went out to celebrate and so myself, Sandra Whyte and Sarah Tueting who were the quieter ones on the team, there were several of us that called ourselves “low-profile.” We were on the bus going back with Coach Smith. I think it was just us and Coach Smith. We were done for the night. We got back to the Olympic Village and we went and got an ice cream from the dining hall. It was just one of those much quieter processing moments and when we said goodnight to Coach Smith it was like, O.K. This is done. It’s one of those really nice memories of having a quiet moment to say goodnight to Coach in a way that just put a period on the sentence.

ANGELA RUGGIERO
I remember going out the whole night [after we won] and the next day getting in a car and going straight to do the David Letterman show where we did the Top Ten. We did it live from Nagano, so we had basically played, stayed up and went straight to do the Top Ten. It was “Top Ten Reasons for Winning A Gold Medal.” I think mine was “You get to take slap shots at the Spice Girls.”
 
KARYN BYE DIETZ
I didn’t know if I was going to keep playing, you just didn’t really know. The next day we went back into the locker room to get our stuff. I remember sitting there and I got a little choked up and Coach Smith said, “Hey, K.L. are you O.K.?” and I’m like [whimpering] “Yeah.” I was obviously excited to win but I think I was sad it was over. It was fun. It was a blast, but I felt like it was over. I had no idea what was ahead of me.
 
SARAH TUETING
I remember just being in a daze. I have this memory of just sitting against a wall and my teammates were in the room thinking, We just won a gold medal. We just won a gold medal! What is that about?
 
ANGELA RUGGIERO
Women’s hockey sort of came into its own in that moment.

KATIE KING CROWLEY
You can look back now and say it’s not that easy to get an Olympic gold medal. After I had two other chances in 2002 and 2006, and we didn’t. It’s hard. It’s a hard thing to do.

BEN SMITH
I always told them, and I always tell other teams, “Gold medals don’t grow on trees, you gotta go out and win it,” and that’s what they did.

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