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SOCHI, Russia – The sticks and gloves of Canadian players were strewn everywhere on the ice; from circle to circle, blue line to end line, marking a trail to their owners.

And there, in the corner off to the left of the Team USA net, was a celebration the likes of which hadn't been seen on Olympic ice since, well, the last time Team Canada won gold: 2010 at Vancouver.

Over on the Team USA bench, as well as at various parts of the ice, were the American players. They were virtually motionless, overwhelmed by emotional distress.

Ahead 2-0 with less than four minutes to play, Team USA lost, 3-2 in overtime.

How did this happen? The gold medal was so close to their neck. 54.6 seconds close.

"It stings, as I'm sure you can imagine," said forward Lyndsey Fry of Chandler, Ariz. "I'm crying now because I look around at my teammates and (think about) how hard we worked on this journey."

All the work for months on the ice and off, done in by two bounces that will haunt Team USA players — two bounces that will live in infamy in USA Hockey history.

A Brianne Jenner pass into the slot deflected off a stick, hit the right knee of American defenseman Kacey Bellamy and caromed past goalie Jessie Vetter with 3:26 to play. Suddenly Canada had hope.

"I don't know, maybe it was the hockey gods," said Jenner, who played collegiately at Ithaca.

Then, with 1:25 to play and Canada's net empty, Kelli Stack's clearing shot from out of the Team USA zone slowly crawled toward the net. Instead, it curled left, hit the post and jumped off toward the corner instead of into the net.

"You think it's going to go in and it doesn't, and you really don't have time to think about," said captain Meghan Duggan, of Danvers, Mass. "You have to get back on your horse and play defense."

Added defenseman Gigi Marvin, of Warroad, Minn., "You don't dwell on it. You play in the moment and stay focused on what your job is at hand and build on it."

Except the Americans failed. They left Marie-Philip Poulin alone in the slot and she pounded home the tying goal with 54.6 seconds remaining.

"You have a player with that much talent in front, she's going to capitalize," said Team USA veteran forward Julie Chu, who was playing in her fourth Olympics and came up short of gold for a fourth time.

In overtime, after a series of penalties in a span of 82 seconds turned a 4-on-3 USA power play into a 4-on-3 on Canadian advantage, Poulin scored again. She drove a shot from the bottom of the left circle past Vetter 8:10 into the extra period.

Game over. Gold to the Canadians for the fourth consecutive Olympics.

"I thought a lot about 1998 and not having won since then," Stack said. "We wanted to experience bringing the gold medal back."

As the Canadians celebrated, the sound system at Bolshoy Ice Dome blared the Avicci hit lyrics, "Wake me up when it's all over."

For Team USA, however, the result won't change in the morning. The pain very likely won't sting any less.

"There really isn't anything to say," Team USA coach Katey Stone said. "You can't take the sting away."

Nor stop the tears.

"It's too bad that in our sport you have to lose the last game to win a silver medal," Duggan said.

Some players said it's too bad referee Joy Tottman of Great Britain got whistle-happy in overtime. The first penalty was a no-doubter. Canadian defenseman Catherine Ward cross-checked Anne Schleper, who was trying to jam in a rebound.

The next was a slashing penalty on Team USA's Jocelyne Lamoureux just six seconds later, punishment for her love-tap to the pads of Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados.

The killer, however, was a cross checking call on Hilary Knight, who was racing back to deny Hayley Wickenheiser a shot on a partial breakaway.

"I didn't touch her," Knight said. "She fell. It was a bogus call."

Stone refused to criticize Tottman, or her team's collapse. She was asked if the pressure was overbearing at the end of regulation.

"I don't think the moment was too big," she said.

The pain afterward was, though.

"But it doesn't take away from how much I love this group," Duggan said.

Knight echoed the sentiment.

"We lost the game, but this has been an amazing journey to come this far," the forward from Sun Valley, Idaho, said. "We can through it all together. There's an amazing pride still among the players."

Kevin Oklobzija writes for the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y.

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