TURIN, Italy—There was a bronze medal, after four years of training for gold. And there was joy, if only through the eyes of a 5-year-old.
As Jenny Potter skated around the rink, victory in hand and daughter Madison in her arms, the kid tugged at her mom.
"Did you win a medal?" Madison asked. "Can I have it?"
The U.S. women's hockey team came here on a mission -- play Canada for the gold medal, and win. The Americans lost to Sweden in the semifinals, beat Finland for the bronze Monday, 4-0, then watched as Canada played for the gold without them.
"We came over to win," Potter said. "It [stinks] that we're not in the gold-medal game."
With forward Katie King delivering a hat trick in her final game and beleaguered goaltender Chanda Gunn stopping 14 shots, the Americans added bronze to their Olympic jewelry collection. The U.S. won gold in the inaugural Olympic tournament in 1998 and silver four years ago.
"We're a little subdued, but we're happy," King said. "We go home with some hardware."
And some questions too. King and forward Tricia Dunn-Luoma, two of the four women who have played on all three U.S. Olympic teams, each announced her retirement after the game. Defenseman Courtney Kennedy and forwards Kim Insalaco and Kathleen Kauth did too, according to defenseman Angela Ruggiero.
Ruggiero and Potter, the other three-time Olympians, said they would keep playing for now, with no promises about Vancouver in 2010.
Ben Smith, who has coached all three U.S. Olympic teams, might not be in Vancouver, either. His contract with USA Hockey expires this summer, and he did not respond enthusiastically when asked whether he wanted to coach the 2010 team.
"Four years is a long time, from my standpoint," Smith said. "I can't really tell where I'm going to be."
Smith said he would endorse a woman as his successor but did not offer a timetable and declined to suggest any candidates.
"I don't know what my role will be with USA Hockey in the future," he said. "I've certainly enjoyed everything. . . . I think we need more women in the leadership positions of this program. I think that day is coming, and I hope it comes soon. I hope I can make some type of contribution in an advisory role."
He said he'd assembled a roster designed to beat Canada, but ; the U.S. went 2-8 against Canada over the winter. He said he might have selected players with more speed to combat Sweden. He stuck with Gunn over Pam Dreyer in goal. Dreyer posted a shutout in her only Olympic start and the Swedes beat Gunn in the semifinal shootout.
"I haven't played so well in this tournament," Gunn said.
Smith offered no apologies, however, for his controversial omission of veteran forward Cammi Granato from the roster. He answered tersely when asked whether, in retrospect, Granato would have helped the U.S. team. "I don't think so," Smith said.
For the players, the oddest part of the Olympic experience was not playing archrival Canada.
"You think about them all year," captain Krissy Wendell said. "You just assume you're playing against them. It's so weird."
No Canada game, no gold medal game. The U.S. players spent four years of blood, sweat and tears training for 60 minutes that never happened.
"It's 100% worth it," Wendell said. "I would have gone into it knowing the result."
Bill Shaikin is a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.