This may say something about women’s hockey or maybe just about the modesty of Marie-Philip Poulin. But when that moment came – when it was hero time, overtime, and every player on two teams was in a position to score the “Golden Goal” to win the 2014 Sochi Olympic tournament – did she imagine herself as the difference maker?
That’s how Canadians grow up, isn’t it? Dreaming of scoring the winning goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, or in her case, the Olympics?
“No, I think we just wanted to go there as a team,” Poulin said Friday. “I mean, I just wanted to go out there with a smile and enjoy every moment. We worked so hard all year long. I’m so happy we – we – came back from behind and won.”
Poulin smiled a tired smile.
She and most of her teammates had been up pretty much all night, celebrating their improbable, come-from-behind 3-2 overtime win last Thursday over the Americans in the decisive game of the tournament and one of the defining moments of the Olympics.
Poulin scored with 55 seconds to go in regulation and goaltender Shannon Szabados on the bench for a sixth attacker to tie the game 2-2 and set up overtime. Seconds before, the Americans came within an inch of putting it away, when Kelli Stack’s shot towards the open net hit the post and stayed out.
It was that close – and Poulin said when she saw the puck rolling towards the empty net, “to be honest, I was freaking out a little bit. It was a turning point for us.”
A turning point for Poulin, too.
Four years ago, she scored the only two goals in the game when Canada defeated the United States 2-0 to win the Olympic gold in Vancouver. It is hard to imagine anything topping that victory, and yet this might – though in the normal cycle of women’s hockey, life will go back to normal pretty soon for Canada’s new/old hockey heroine.
In Poulin’s case, it means a fall return to Boston University, where she is studying psychology, to complete her senior year.
Poulin is on a gap year, with Canada’s national team centralized in Calgary – and until the grand finale, it hadn’t gone all that smoothly for her.
A persistent ankle sprain, suffered in a game against a midget-aged boys’ team, wouldn’t heal. For a time, she even considered giving up her place on the team, so someone else could play. But she stuck it out, made the team and returned to the lineup for the Dec. 28 exhibition game against the U.S. in Toronto.
By then, Kevin Dineen had taken over as head coach from Dan Church, and Dineen’s ultra-competitive nature, demonstrated in in his NHL playing and coaching days, started to rub off on the team.
Back in the darker more challenging moments of the season, it might have been difficult for any of the players to see this bright day coming. Of her four hockey gold medals, Hayley Wickenheiser called it “the hardest one to get in so many different ways.”
Poulin, 22, said the nature and circumstances of the gold-medal winning game “reflected our year this year. It was not easy this year, with injuries, with the coaching change and everything, but I think it just shows that we kept our composure and kept working together towards the same goal – and it happened.”
Dineen, Poulin said, also played a big part in setting things right.
“He taught us so well since he came with the team,” she said. “We jumped in with him. We’re all in the same boat. We worked towards the same goal since he came in here.”
Growing up, Poulin played midget AA in Quebec until she was 16, when she switched over and played a year in the CWHL for the Montreal Stars. From there, she went to Dawson College in Montreal for a year, played there, and then went to the Olympics in 2010. In her first three years at BU, she scored 54 goals in 79 games.
Standing 5-foot-5, she has a sniper’s sensibility.
“Two gold-medal finals and two goals in each game,” Wickenheiser said of Poulin’s ability to raise her level at critical times. “I mean, that’s what great players do. They come through in the clutch.”
Unlike their NHL counterparts, who will go back to high-paying jobs and the Stanley Cup playoff race, interest in women’s hockey generally dissolves soon after an Olympics end. It’s why most of the players hadn’t even gone to bed before appearing for a 3 p.m. (local time) press conference Friday in Sochi.
“I’m just trying to take in every minute,” said Wickenheiser, 35. “We have three more days here and it’s going to be a hard crash when we get home, because life goes back to normal pretty quickly.”
Wickenheiser is approaching a crossroads in her career and hinted her next step would either be medical school or pressing on until the 2018 Games in South Korea.
As for Poulin, once she finishes her education, she wants to stay in hockey, perhaps as a coach. (Improving the depth of coaching in female hockey is a clear goal of Hockey Canada’s and they need to keep female players involved in the same way NHL players frequently gravitate to coaching careers once their playing days wind down.)
Poulin also wants to play in at least one more Olympics – although how she might top the results of her first two appearances is difficult to conceive.
“Every time, it gets better,” she said. “Here, with that gold medal, I couldn’t be more proud.
“It just shows we’re so lucky to be in Canada. All the support we get from over there. Who could ask for a better country to be part of? We’re so happy to bring that gold medal to Canada.”
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