Talk about your icebreakers. And this one ended up as a Western shootout in a hockey finale that seemingly only Hollywood would use - and has over and over again.
The United States and Canada women's hockey teams needed not only overtime but a shootout session to determine their first meeting of the pre-Olympic exhibition season Saturday night at the E Center. And with goalkeeper Sarah Teuting stopping all five one-on-one shootout shots by Canada and U.S. captain Cammi Granato faking, faking and then tapping in her squad's fifth and final shootout attempt, Team USA claimed a 5-4 victory.It was a scene stolen straight from "The Mighty Ducks" - but thrilling for the announced E Center crowd of 7,306, which marked the largest ever for a women's hockey game. And it came on a college football Saturday with much of the state's attention and population turned to home games at BYU and the University of Utah.
But you can bet your Zamboni that Saturday night's U.S.-Canada exhibition served as more than a mere warm-up for February's 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
- The event helped kick off a four-day United States Olympic Committee Preview in Salt Lake City, with participants, coaches and officials - representing all U.S. competing sports - in town along with with more than 150 members of the national media.
- Saturday night's USA-Canada contest was one of the first major Olympic exhibitions along the Wasatch Front since Salt Lake City was named host of the 2002 Games. Following the Nagano Olympics, Utah's hosting of similar national and international competitions will become more routine - as will the visibility of the Olympic corporate sponsors, such as those that adorned the boards at the E Center.
But the fans on hand fit in just fine, waving American and Canadian flags and finally - in the middle of the second period - coming up with the obligatory "U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!" chants.
- The exhibition was the inaugural contest in "The Challenge Cup" - an annual affair planned to at least involve United States and Canada and perhaps additional teams in future years.
- More firsts: Team USA and Canada are the favorites for the first-ever Olympic gold medal in women's hockey. And Saturday night's pairing is the first of 12 such U.S.-Canada exhibitions through the end of January.
Yes, these teams will get to know each other well - of course, they already do. They last met in April, where Canada edged the United States 4-3 in overtime in the 1997 Women's World Hockey Championship. And they know that they don't care too much for each other, if the fierce bodychecking - a penalty in women's hockey - and occasional glares, shoves and shivers are any indication.
For Team USA, it was a rare victory against its neighbor to the north. The United States has defeated Canada only twice before in sanctioned international competition. And with Salt Lake City serving as pole position for the Road to Nagano, the United States got off to a fine start.
Canada captain Jayna Hefford opened the game's scoring at the 13:39 mark of the first period, and Team USA's Shelley Looney knotted it less than three minutes later on an unassisted wraparound behind Canada's net.
Team USA took a 3-2 lead on another from-behind-the-net score by Jeanine Sobek and a power-play slapshot from way out front by Angela Ruggiero, the latter coming at 5:28. But Canada answered with a pair of Hefford goals - the first a tipped deflection on a power play and the latter a flip to the top right as she came swooping in with a defender draped all over her and Canada playing shorthanded.
The United States added a fourth goal as Tricia Dunn took an assist pass from Ruggiero and smacked it past Canada keeper Danielle Dube at the 17-minute mark. Canada evened it at 4-all just 42 seconds into the third period as Therese Brisson took a rebound shot off Tueting and dumped it back in the net for a 4-4 score that stayed trough the end of the third and the 10-minute overtime.
As for the ongoing USOC Preview, the media will be shuttled first to the mountains today for a peek at the 2002 Olympic venues at Park City and Deer Valley before a drive-by look at the Games sites in Salt Lake Valley.
On Monday, group and one-on-one interviews are available for select U.S. athletes in alpine skiing, speed skating, women's ice hockey, luge, figure skating and freestyle skiing. On Tuesday, the sports are bobsled, men's ice hockey and snowboarding, with Utah and Salt Lake City leaders available along with CBS Sports personnel.