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Olympic Ice Hockey

'An inch to the right:' How the U.S. narrowly missed a gold medal

Photo: Scott Rovak/Getty Images

Kelli Stack's shot at an empty net came this close to sealing a U.S. win.

SOCHI -- An inch to the right. Think about that measurement for a second. An inch to the right and Kelli Stack doesn’t have tears in her eyes as she describes how close she came to burying Canada. An inch to the right and she’s likely on NBC’s Today show and the front of The Plain Dealer, the pride of Brooklyn Heights, Ohio, an Olympic champion.

An inch to the right. With her team leading 2-1 late in the third period and Canada having pulled goaltender Shannon Szabados for an extra skater, Stack, a forward for the U.S. team, found the puck on her stick in her own zone and aimed for history. Her clearing attempt traveled the length of the ice and clanged off the post, missing by an inch, the puck landing harmlessly in front of the goal.

“When I first let it go I thought maybe it had a chance,” Stack said. “As it crossed the blue line, I thought, 'It’s going to hit the post.' At the time, we were still up a goal. I was thinking that would have been nice if it went in. An inch to the right…I thought, it’s not that big a deal. We were still up a goal. But it would have given us a bigger cushion. After they tied it up, I thought to myself: I did that once before in college, and it’s the worst feeling in the world."

Stack said the same situation happened to her while she was at Boston College. Her team led St. Lawrence University 3-2, and she had the puck in her own zone with an empty net looming. She sent the puck down the ice. Post. “Then they tied it,” she said, reliving an earlier athletic nightmare.

U.S. forward Jocelyne Lamoureux won the draw that led to Stack’s attempt. She was asked about Stack’s shot in the mixed zone as a television screen behind her showed Canada’s players celebrating on the ice of the Bolshoy Ice Dome. “It was, 'Game over,'” said Lamoureux. “Inches from a gold medal.”

KWAK: No satisfying explanation for U.S. after 'heartbreaking' loss

An inch to the right. Seconds after Stack’s shot hit the post, Canada forward Marie Philip-Poulin beat U.S. goaltender Jessie Vetter from the edge of the crease with 54.6 seconds left to tie the game at 2-2. “For some reason, we always let them come back,” Stack said. “Leading up to this game we talked a lot how we felt this team was different.”

They were different. The U.S. did not fold in overtime and had the better chances in the opening six minutes. But Poulin, who beat the Americans in Vancouver four years earlier with two goals in the gold medal game, scored a power-play goal 8:10 into overtime for the winner. Golden goal, Canada. “It will take a few days for all of this to soak in,” said Vetter, who like most of her teammates was accountable afterward and didn’t dodge questions. “We lose, we come away with a silver medal, but our team played well and we will be proud at the end of the day.”

This was the fourth time the U.S and Canada had played for a gold medal (1998, 2002 and 2010 and 2014). The Canadians have not lost a match in Olympic women's ice hockey since 1998, a streak of 20 consecutive games. “We thought about the 1998 team and not having won gold since then,” Stack said. “We wanted to be the team to bring the gold medal back. I had no doubt we were going to win. We were up by two goals. This is honestly heartbreaking and shocking we did not win the game. It feels like a dream. So….”

Stack was wearing a bandana around her head with the American flag on it. She composed herself again. She said she would not dwell on the shot that missed by an inch but rather the other missed chances for the U.S. Maybe she actually believed it. “We’ve been through this before,” she said, her voice cracking. “We’ll get through it again.”

Then something that almost never happens, happened. Stack started to edge toward the hallway to the dressing room but stopped. “The hardest part is going to be going in the locker room,” she said. “So if you guys you want to keep me here, you can. Having to take your stuff off, everyone is going to be so sad.”

She stayed for another 30 seconds of questions. Then she headed for the locker room, with tears in her eyes. An inch to the right, the story changes forever.