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Team Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin with her gold medal (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Team Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin with her gold medal (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

SOCHI 2014

Gifted Poulin in spotlight again Add to ...

Perhaps now Marie-Philip Poulin’s fame will match her accomplishments.

Before she scored 8 minutes, 10 seconds into overtime Thursday, to give Team Canada a 3-2 win and the women’s hockey gold medal, smashing the Sochi Olympics hopes of the favoured U.S. team, Poulin was far from a household name back home.

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Just 22, she was already a burgeoning superstar in the world of women’s hockey thanks to a long list of achievements, including both goals for Canada in its 2-0 gold-medal win at the 2010 Vancouver Games. But such is the nature of Poulin’s sport, the interest of Canadians waned until the next Olympics came along.

So, despite the fact she is called the “Sidney Crosby of women’s hockey” for her Vancouver heroics and for things like running up 43 points in 16 games as a 16-year-old rookie forward for the Montreal Stars in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, or being nominated as the U.S. NCAA women’s player of the year in 2010-11, when she led Boston University to the Frozen Four championship game, Poulin was not even the most famous hockey player to hail from her hometown of Beauceville, Que., population 6,354. (That honour went to Stéphane Veilleux, 32, a journeyman forward who has put in 485 NHL games, mostly with the Minnesota Wild.)

But after stepping forward when the gold-medal game appeared lost – with the Americans leading 2-1, she tied the score with 55 seconds left, and then won it in overtime – Poulin has the chance to become the superstar with broad public appeal Canadian women’s hockey, all of women’s hockey for that matter, needs to keep the sport growing.

“It’s the best feeling ever,” Poulin said shortly after scoring her second golden goal in her second gold-medal game.

“I think we just played our game. It was such a team effort. We never gave up.

“Now, we know why we work all year – for this game.”

It is now clear Poulin is made for the big stage. She has the fortitude and timing to step forward at the right time, taking charge Thursday to rescue her team in what was the most dramatic, high-profile women’s game played.

(The drama was further amplified as, seconds before Poulin’s tying goal, the Americans hit the post with a long-distance shot and Canada goalie Shannon Szabados on the bench for an extra attacker.)

Her timing could not be better. The Canadian women’s team lost several big stars to retirement in recent years and Hayley Wickenheiser, the country’s last superstar, was playing in her final Olympic Games at 35.

The star power had shifted to their bitter rivals, the U.S. women, led by Amanda Kessel. Thanks to Poulin and Szabados, who kept the Canadians in the game until the scorers finally started clicking, Team Canada can boast some glitz as well.

“Marie-Philip Poulin is the best player in women’s hockey, hands down,” veteran Canadian forward Jayna Hefford told reporters after Thursday’s game. “To have her on your team, you know she’s going to come through in the big moment.

“She’s going to be around for a long time and she’s going to be captain of this team in the future for sure. This has been coming for a while. I don’t think she gets enough credit for how good she is and I think she showed the world tonight that she’s the best player in the world.”

When it comes to public appeal, Poulin is pretty much made to measure for Canada. She took up hockey at 5. She is bilingual, and plays with an obvious joie de vivre, along with her prodigious scoring skills.

She is also a good learner.

In 2010, there was a minor public rumpus when the Canadian players returned to the ice after their gold-medal triumph with cigars and beer. Poulin, then 18 and underage for drinking alcohol in B.C., was photographed quaffing a cold one.

After this latest win, it didn’t take long for a reporter to ask Poulin if there were any around for another on-ice celebration.

“In the room,” she replied with a smile.

Follow on Twitter: @dshoalts