Canada beat the US to win the gold medal in the Olympic women's hockey tournament in Sochi today. It was an absolutely amazing game: hockey played at its highest calibre; two closely matched teams, with a long history and a strong rivalry; an excited, boisterous crowd; an Olympic gold medal on the line.
The Americans played an amazing game and led 2-0 as the third period wound to a close, a gold medal within their grasp.
And then, something happened.
About halfway through the final period, the Americans stopped playing. At least, they stopped playing their game, the game that had kept Canada completely in check for the first 50 minutes of the 60-minute match. Instead of attacking, the US hung back. Instead of taking the game to Canada, the Americans let the Canadians bring the game to them.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Canada scored and, with still more than three minutes left to play, suddenly, miraculously, it was game on. 2-1 with plenty of time remaining.
What happened then will become legendary in Canada. In some ways, it already is. Right up there with Paul Henderson's game winner in Game 8 of the Summit Series of 1972, with the Gretzky to Lemieux goals of the 1987 Canada Cup, with Sidney Crosby's overtime gold-medal winner at Vancover in 2010.
Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin scored to tie it with just under a minute remaining to play. Then, in overtime, on the powerplay, Poulin scored again, sending the puck into a wide open net and sending a country into celebration.
And people all around the world recognized the greatness that is women's hockey. If anything could stop the chatter about dumping the women's game from the Olympics, it was the two incredibly exciting, incredibly competitive medal games played today.
So why is that so many people feel they need to focus on the officiating? Sure, the officiating in the Olympics has been spotty, incredibly spotty. The gold medal final was marred by some shoddy refereeing work.
But the fact of the matter (sorry America) is that the women's gold medal match in hockey was NOT decided by the officiating. It was decided by the US decision to play not to lose at the end and by Canada's commitment to keep fighting to win until the very last whistle.
It would have been an absolute tragedy if the US had won it on an empty-net goal scored when the lineswoman ran into the Canadian defender and allowed the US player a free shot at the open net just before the tying goal. True. But the post intervened and the puck stayed out.
It would have been a crime if Canada had won it on the powerplay that followed the cheap penalty early in the overtime. But they didn't.
Hayley Wickenheiser broke free on a breakaway shortly thereafter and she was dragged down from behind by an American defender. It was a good penalty for the American player to take, no doubt, as it saved a certain game-ending goal... but it was a penalty. And, if the rules of hockey had been properly followed, it would have resulted in a penalty shot.
Hayley Wickenheiser would not have missed on a penalty shot.
So the break went the Americans' way on that play, Instead of a sure-thng penalty shot on the stick of the greatest player ever to play the game, the US had the chance to kill off yet another penalty.
It's unfortunate that they couldn't. Poulin was left alone in front of the net and she buried it. Canada won. The U.S. lost. And it was one of the greatest hockey games ever played.
But it was not, as some have claimed, decided unfairly by a referee's call.
You want to see a game where the referees unfairly decided it, watch the US victory over Canada in the women's world cup of soccer. That was unfair. That was a referee's call handing the victory to an unworthy victor.
You want to see a game where the referee tried to hand the game to one team but, ironically, caused the pendulum to swing instead to the other team, watch the women's hockley gold medal game from Salt Lake City.
But do not sully this classic, wonderful, otherworldly gold medal game in Olympics Women's Hockey with the argument that the referee decided it. No. Not so. The coaches and the players decided it. The officiating, as awful as it was, played no real role in the final outcome.
Congratulations to both teams for an incredible game and an amazing tournament. Congratulations to the American team for an amazing performance and for the grace with which they accepted the final outcome.
And congratulations to Team Canada for grit, for commitment, for skill and talent and grit and hard work. And for winning it all in fine, exciting, soon to be legendary style.