Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - United States Women's Winter Olympics - 1998
One on One Turning Point

United States Women's Winter Olympics - 1998

16 APRIL 2015
USA captain Cammi Granato celebrates gold medal victory at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. (The Hockey News/Hockey Hall of Fame)
In June 1991, Nagano, Japan was selected as the host of the 1998 Olympic Winter Games. The Winter Games were held between February 7 and 22, 1998, and included 2,176 participants from 72 countries.

It was a very exciting time in hockey, as it was the first time that National Hockey League players were permitted to participate in Olympic hockey, but the 1998 Winter Games also saw the introduction of women's hockey.

USA players celebrate with their gold medals after a 3-1 gold medal game win over Canada at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. (Allsport)
The 1997 Women's World Hockey Championship served as the qualifier for the 1998 Winter Olympic Games. The top five teams from the 1997 World Championship were invited to compete along with a team from the host country. Joining Japan were Canada, China, Finland, Sweden and the United States.

Canada was favoured to win the tournament as they had consistently won competitions in previous years, with the United States finishing second. There was no doubt that they were the most powerful squads competing in women's hockey in 1998, and the world of hockey anticipated the two reaching the final to battle for Olympic gold.

With all round-robin games played at Aqua Wing Arena, the United States went through the qualifying rounds undefeated, defeating China 5-0, Sweden 7-1, Finland 4-2, Japan 10-0 and Canada 7-4. In the process, they outscored their opponents 33 to 7. Canada won four of their five games, losing the contest to the United States. Finland finished third (three wins and two losses) and China was fourth with two wins and three losses. Sweden and Japan failed to qualify for a medal.

USA forward Shelley Looney wore this jersey during the first women's hockey competition at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Looney would score the game winning goal during a 3-1 victory over Canada to capture the gold medal.
Finland and China competed for the bronze medal on February 17 at the Big Hat Arena in Nagano, with Finland capturing the bronze with a 4-1 victory.

Later that day, also at the Big Hat, it was match-up everyone expected: the United States versus Canada. Team USA's Gretchen Ulion opened the scoring on a powerplay early in the second period. Teammate Shelley Looney followed with a powerplay goal mid-way through the third to put the USA up 2-0. Canada battled back and Danielle Goyette potted a powerplay goal just over four minutes from the end of regulation. Valiantly trying to tie the game, Canada pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker, but Sandra Whyte was able to score an insurance goal into the empty net with eight seconds to play.

USA's Shelley Looney and Canada's Therese Brisson battling during game action at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. (Allsport)
The game ended with the United States winning the Olympic gold medal with a 3-1 victory. Goaltender Sarah Tueting leapt for joy in her crease as the final buzzer sounded. She made 22 saves during the gold medal game. Karen Bye and captain Cammi Granato embraced in exhaustion and exultation. Sandra Whyte collected a goal and two assists and Gretchen Ulion had a goal and an assist in the game. Canada was relegated to the silver.

The U.S. team held hands, waved flags and sang together as 'The Star-Spangled Banner' was played in their honour.

The impact the team made on hockey was extraordinary. Within two years, registrations in girls' hockey increased by fifty percent in the United States. "We affected children's lives in a good way, and some adults too," Cammi Granato said. "I've met people 45 or 50 years old who started playing hockey because they saw us play. It has really been a great experience to have impacted people's lives that way." She added, "We got used to playing in arenas with no fans, and now people all over the country saw us. It was special."

In 2009, the Olympic gold medal-winning team was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

USA players celebrate after gold medal game victory over Canada at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. (Allsport) USA players Cammi Granato, Karyn Bye and Elizabeth Brown celebrating after a 3-1 gold medal game win over Canada at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. (Allsport) Team USA celebrating after a 3-1 gold medal game win over Canada at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. (Allsport)

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.