Winning Olympic hockey gold once is a lifetime accomplishment.
For Haley Irwin and her Team Canada teammates, it’s more of once-every-four-years kind of thing. Irwin, who sat out Canada’s round-robin games with an upper body injury, only to return and draw an assist on the improbable game-tying goal that sent Thursday’s gold-medal contest to overtime, said three days later the victory’s still sinking in.
“Wow,” the Thunder Bay native said, reached in Sochi via email.
“I still think to myself, we did it, we won. We never gave up belief in ourselves or one another. The bench stayed positive the whole time and we just kept bringing it one shift at a time.”
The epic battle against Canada’s arch-rival Americans may go down as one of the greatest games in the country’s storied hockey history, certainly the greatest the woman’s team has ever played.
Down 2-0 with less than three-and-a-half minutes to go in regulation, it looked like Canada’s 12-year domination at the Olympics was coming to an end.
Then fate took charge.
Irwin was on the ice when Brianne Jenner sparked Canada’s comeback hopes, then had a hand in Marie-Philip Poulin’s equalizer in the final minute of play – moments after the post got in the way of the American’s empty-net insurance.
Poulin would go on to score the golden goal in overtime.
Irwin says the reaction has been fast and furious across the nation.
“The reaction has been insane. I feel so lucky to be from Canada, the support has been amazing. It gives us so much energy to know Canada is cheering for us and supporting us. To see everyone’s reaction when we won? That’s why I play the game. It leaves me speechless to see Canada’s support for us. I can’t say thank you enough.”
It wasn’t easy sitting out the round-robin, including Canada’s 3-2 win over the United States.
She didn’t head to Sochi to watch from the sidelines, and her absence was certainly felt, if her play in the semifinal and final was an indication of her value to the Canadian team.
In the decisive contest, Irwin was a constant on the ice in the game’s final moments, digging the puck free, challenging the U.S. skaters, helping will her side to victory.
It was tough, Irwin said.
“You don’t ever think that you would make it this far and have an injury keep you out of the lineup,” she said. “It really put things into perspective for me, and I told myself when I was back playing I would do anything and everything to help my team win.”
Comparing the two experiences, 2014 in Sochi and 2010 in Vancouver is difficult, Irwin said. Vancouver was on Canadian soil, which made it special for that reason alone.
Consider them 1A and 1B in the memories of her mind.
“It feels amazing to win a gold medal here in Sochi,” Irwin said. “I’m not sure how it differs from 2010, they are both completely different experiences. But both are incredibly special to me and a dream come true.”
Irwin is expected to return to Thunder Bay with her gold medal on Tuesday evening at 7:45 p.m. at Thunder Bay International Airport.
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