Henderson, Crosby and now Poulin

Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin bites her gold medal during the presentation ceremony after her team...

Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin bites her gold medal during the presentation ceremony after her team defeated Team USA in overtime in the women's ice hockey final game at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 20, 2014. (REUTERS)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:26 PM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - It was a blurry 18 hours after the gold-medal celebration had ended and Marie-Philip Poulin, now Canadian hero for the ages, operating on almost no sleep, was trying to make sense of all that has gone on in her Olympic life.

She eloquently said in her more comfortable language “un conte de fées.”

She said it several times in a short interview. Loosely translated: She was talking about her life being a “fairy tale” and she was the central figure.

As if this story or her story needed any more angles. The greatest gold-medal game in women’s hockey history — maybe the greatest game of these Olympics — was lost, won, tied, and ended in overtime, all in the blink of an eye on Poulin’s goal, after it was sent to overtime on Poulin’s goal.

“I couldn’t believe it happened,” she said of scoring the winner.

“I was frozen. It was just a great moment ... We were just so happy we never gave up.”

Canada has beaten the U.S. four straight times in gold-medal games, but in the last two, it has scored just five goals: Four of them by the no-longer-little-known Poulin.

This is the first real Paul Henderson-like moment for women’s hockey.

The first where-were-you-in-’14? moment for a sport in need of them.

For Poulin, who has scored at a 56-goal pace for Boston University, it is both tying-goal and then golden-goal times two: Imagine if Sidney Crosby again scores the winner for Canada in a second straight Olympics?

That would make him the second Canadian to do that: Poulin became the first Thursday night.

Henderson did it three times in a row in the famed ’72 Canada-Russia series. That will never be matched again — unless Poulin does it in 2018.

We knew before the tournament began that Canada and the United States would play for hockey gold. That is the best thing and the worst thing about the sport.

We knew this hasn’t been the best of years for the Canadian women’s team.

We knew the Americans were younger and faster.

We knew the coach was replaced just before the Olympics.

We knew the team was divided between old and new and Hockey Canada wasn’t happy with the direction it had taken.

And then Kevin Dineen arrived on the scene. Credibility arrived with him.

“I don’t know if we get here without him,” said Shannon Szabados, who made the gold medal possible with a brilliant game in goal.

Down 2-1 with time ticking down, they got some good luck — an empty-net shot hit the post.

If it scores, the history books are completely different.

“There’s a moment where you doubt,” said the 22-year-old Poulin. “But it’s just a moment. Kevin did a great job behind the bench. He kept us calm...It was the greatest game I’ve ever been part of.”

It was probably the single greatest day in the history of Olympic women’s hockey. The Canada-U.S. game was epic and memorable for everything but its officiating. Before it, there was a stirring bronze-medal game between Sweden and Switzerland that ended with the historically stoic Swiss winning the gold medal for celebration.

“Honestly, I don’t know if we could have been scripted it any better,” said Szabados. “We’ve been through so much this year. To us, a 2-0 deficit was nothing compared to what we’ve been through.”

Almost everyone said the same thing after a night of celebration. They’ve been through so much this year.

But they don’t necessarily elaborate on what that all means. There were injury issues all season. Poulin had a bad ankle. Hayley Wickenheiser missed most of the pre-tournament Games. Dan Church was let go as coach and replaced by Dineen for reasons that still haven’t been completely explained. The question of whether old players had hung around too long and there wasn’t enough youth dogged the team — but for now, Hayley Wickenheiser’s play has put that aside.

And still, they won. They found a way. They got lucky and had terrific goaltending — a wondrous combination.

“Waking up with a gold medal,” said Poulin, “nothing feels better than that.”

She wasn’t sure she’d even get that opportunity. Back in December, Poulin’s injured ankle wasn’t progressing, wasn’t bringing her back fast enough, so she considered an alternative. She thought about giving up her spot to a healthier player.

She is that much about team. She was well enough to play in these Olympics, well enough to play that right-place, right-time game that makes her so dangerous.

“I feel the game reflected our year this year,” said Poulin. “Kind of being down two goals. It was not easy this year with everything. But we kept working. We kept at it. We never gave up.”

The historical gold-medal win for Canada was felt at these Games as it’s never been felt before. Social media has changed all of that, making the Olympic moment all the more immediate.

Instead of waiting to get back to Canada for reaction to their win, the reaction came to them in various forms.

“We were watching some of the clips that people posted online today,” said Wickenheiser, owner of four gold medals. “From different schools, bars, stuff like that, from around the world. Andrew Ference sent me the video of the (Edmonton) Oilers celebrating.

“It was very cool,” she said. “It’s always fun to see grown men jumping and screaming.”

Grown men — and just about the rest of Canada, too.

 

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