SOCHI, Russia -- You're such a bitch, hockey. Your penchant for cruelty trumps all the other mean sports. Your mad caroms and manic speed make playoff overtime hockey among the most riveting things going. Good for you. That doesn't make you any less malevolent.
That stunt you just pulled on a group of unsuspecting Americans was pretty sadistic. I hope you're satisfied. I say this as a United States citizen but a devout Canada-phile with a Canada-flag keychain. I love Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Quebec and pretty much all 32 million Canadians with the possible exceptions of Justin Bieber and that one mayor who seems sort of kooky. Besides, I watch sports like theater. I have sat too many decades in press boxes to root for anyone in particular.
What you did to the U.S. women's hockey team in the Bolshoy Ice Dome is something nobody would wish on any team not owned by Daniel Snyder. You might not even wish it on any five skaters who included A-Rod. You took dedicated, largely unsung gamers who spent four years hankering for a gold that has eluded them, who beat Canada repeatedly in those four years, and you dragged them along through 56 minutes and 33 seconds of their own disciplined prowess against their biggest rivals until their lead stood at 2-0 and their prize shimmered unmistakably just ahead.
Then you dumped them by the roadside and with a lifetime supply of winces. They had a role in that; you had a bigger one.
I hope you're pleased with yourself.
I'm sure you are.
After all, everybody says, "That's hockey."
You did it like you do sometimes, with a carom off a defender's leg with 3:26 left (goal Canada) and then a puck that rolled down the ice toward an empty net like a nightmare before clanking against a post with 1:14 left (no goal U.S.). An inch to the right would have changed the night, the weekend, the legacies, the memories. There are many games of inches; you're a game of a single inch. Laugh away, wherever you are.
Then, when all that still seemed innocuous, you punished the kind of mistake you tend to let go oftentimes. But oh no, with something as coveted as a gold medal on the line and 54 seconds away, you had Marie-Philip Poulin right there when U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter didn't cover that hopeless semi-shot. I know it's an error; I know Poulin gamely fought off a check. Granting a goal for that isn't unreasonable. Piling it atop your other shenanigans is.
Of the closing 206 seconds of regulation, U.S. forward Kelli Stack said, "I think we were just so focused on doing our job and not letting what happened happen. I don't know how it happened."
"I don't know how it happened."
Of course not.
Just Wednesday at the final U.S. full practice, prodded by a question from someone (hi) who finds this accepted thing of decisive bounces a bit wacko, U.S. coach Katey Stone spoke of the love of the risk. It's exhilarating, she said, to go into the fracas knowing you might end up devastated. You might end up with an outcome that's cruel.
Not even in the darkest corners of our skulls did we stand there chattering and picturing something this cruel, though. Seldom do you have a defenseman such as Michelle Picard collapsing to the ice in a motionless heap upon the (beautifully crafted) winning goal, where everybody in the rink comprehends every contortion of her crumple. Seldom do you get Olympic silver medalists with stone faces where nobody begrudges the stone faces -- a big gap between the crestfallen silvers and the giddy bronzes (the happy Swiss!).
You seldom have a coach as accomplished as Stone looking shell-shocked, saying, "This is very difficult," and, "There really isn't much to say (to the players)," and, "You can't take the sting away." You seldom get a situation like an Olympics with a mixed zone, so that the U.S. players get to talk to reporters within earshot of rivals just down the row using phrases like "dream come true." They get to file past big TV screens and look at Canadian players still on the ice, celebrating. I know that's not your jurisdiction, hockey, yet I'll bet you love it. U.S. captain Meghan Duggan's voice cracked steadily as she said, "I just look at my teammates, and everything we've been through this year, and all the years before, and you just, you stay proud of your team." She's an adult; I get that. Tears are respectable; I get that. It reflects how much they cared; I get that.
Still, you did that to her -- them -- in 206 haunted seconds. They get to sit around for four years or always and think about the 206 little ticks that wound up freighted with your patented caroms and clanks. To compound their suffering, they get to tack on the first two minutes of overtime when they, clearly well-coached, emerged from the break with a barrage that pelted the excellent Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados but couldn't get through.
That inability to get through owes less to merit than most any momentous turn you can name in sports. It's also part of the whole big glorious gasp of it. That's why sometime in April or May, I'm probably going to sit around watching some NHL playoff game and marveling at the breathless wonder.
That's OK. I'm still going to think back to a Thursday night in Sochi and call you a bitch.