For more than a week, they bore their opponents' taunts with smiles and silence. They talked instead about how much they respected the U.S. women's Olympic hockey team. They said nothing about the little things that were being done to irritate and belittle them; little things such as having their photographs at the athletes village scribbled on and autographed by the American players.
And the business about the Canadian flag. Did it really happen? Did the Americans have a Canadian flag in their dressing room? Was it mocked as a symbol of weakness?
The Canadians heard it was so but stayed calm. Redemption would be theirs. Redemption for the eight-game losing streak they had endured before these Olympics. Redemption for the fact the United States was everyone's pick to win gold in Salt Lake City. And redemption, to be sure, for the gold-medal game the Canadians had lost four years ago in Nagano.
They got it last night with a 3-2 win that had Canada's best female hockey players standing together, arm in arm, crying tears of joy.
They got it by overcoming a partisan crowd, an inordinate number of American power plays (11) and a team that had gone 35 games in a row without losing a game, until last night.
And what a night it was for Canada. Its women's team scored early and late. Simply put, the players refused to lose. They didn't want to endure the agony of Nagano, when they stood on the blueline at the end of the game and watched the Americans accept the gold medals Canada had been expected to receive.
"The worst part was hearing their national anthem," recalled assistant captain Vicky Sunohara.
They had already heard and seen enough leading up to the final. According to several Canadians, the U.S. players helped cook their own goose through their off-ice foolishness.
Ms. Sunohara said there were "certain acts of disrespect" thrown at the Canadians. She talked about the photographs of Lori Dupuis and Kelly Bechard that were drawn over and written on by the American players who happily left their names.
"We took the photographs and put them in our dressing room," said Ms. Sunohara, who was told a Canadian flag had been hung in the U.S. dressing room. "I don't know what was being done with it. We heard a lot of different things that were said about us. We didn't say a thing back. We were down 0-8 to them. We said, 'Let's do it when it counts,' and we did. Maybe we should thank them. It fuelled the fire. It gave us motivation."
The Canadians took a 1-0 lead on the United States, then countered with a goaltender, Kim St-Pierre, and a penalty-killing unit that was overworked but seldom better. That Stacey Livingston, an American, was allowed to referee such a crucial game made her every call open to interpretation, and the fact she called so many penalties in favour of the U.S. team only hardened the Canadians' resolve to be stronger, tougher.
"We showed true character. I looked in their eyes and I saw fear," said Hayley Wickenheiser, whose second-period goal came soon after the Americans' first and put Canada back on top 2-1.
"Hayley Wickenheiser's a great hockey player, but maybe she's not an optometrist," countered U.S. coach Ben Smith.
If you watched last night's final, you saw a game with drama and tension and all types of story lines. Inside and outside, the E Center was crackling with emotion. Outside, scalpers were asking for as much as $600 (U.S.) for a single ticket and getting it. Inside, there were signs and banners and flags everywhere, including one for each country on the two Zambonis, which were driven by women, a nice touch for the evening's event.
As the Canadians had hoped, their goal at 1:45 of the first period rattled the United States and turned up the pressure. Patrick Roy may not be playing for Canada at these Olympics, but one of his biggest fans, Ms. St-Pierre, did a pretty mean imitation. In the second period, her sprawling glove save tipped the puck just enough to send it off one of the posts behind her and out of harm's way. From then on, the Americans were flustered and nervous.
"I can't believe it," said Ms. St-Pierre, who led Canada to last year's world championship, its seventh in a row. "This is what I've dreamed of, to be here with a gold medal. Our team played so well."
Every player on the Canadian roster had the game of her life. They were hungry and spirited but always in control. And when it ended, and they stood on the blueline and looked at the Americans with their silver medals, they thought of Nagano and smiled.
"Some people said, 'If you don't come home with the gold, don't come home,' " Danielle Goyette said. "Now we can come home, and we have the gold medal."
It looked awfully good on them. It gave them the respect they had so dearly wanted and now deserve.
Call it 24-karat payback.