The U.S. women's hockey team found out what it's like not to get to every puck first. The players experienced the unusual feeling of looking up at the scoreboard and seeing a deficit.
Ultimately, they rediscovered what it is like to lose.
It all came at the worst possible time for them: the gold-medal game of the 2002 Olympic Games.
And so Team Canada, winner of all seven Women's World Championships, finally claimed the one prize that has eluded it in the sport the nation cherishes so passionately.
When the final seconds ticked off to finish a U.S. comeback attempt and secure the 3-2 victory at the E Center, the Canadians threw their gloves, sticks and helmets all over the ice as they rushed together to jump on goalie Kim St.-Pierre. The U.S. players slowly took their places along the opposite blue line and waited (and waited and waited) for the Canadians to come over and initiate the traditional postgame handshake line in a reversal of their positions at the inaugural women's tournament in the 1998 Olympics.
It was the first loss for the United States since it lost to Canada in the gold-medal game of the Women's World Championship on April 8, 2001.
After that the United States racked up 31 consecutive victories on its pre-Olympic tour, including eight over Canada, then won its first four games at the Olympics.
"We didn't win the big one," U.S. defenseman Angela Ruggiero said. "It didn't really count. It's disappointing to lose that one game, of course. But I'm proud of our team, for how hard we've worked. We did win a silver medal. It just hurts right now."
But Chris Bailey noticed a strange thing when she looked down during the medals ceremony. She didn't focus on the silver medal around her neck. She looked at the USA on her jersey.
"I'd rather be wearing the bronze or wearing a silver medal or no medal at all and be able to wear the red, white and blue," Bailey said. "I'm just as proud of being an American, losing today, as I was when we won in Nagano. And that's pretty surprising to me."
For Canada, it was the ultimate satisfaction to see the maple leaf flag raised highest above the ice and hear "O Canada" played over the loudspeakers.
"We're very proud of our World Championships," said Jayna Hefford, who scored what proved to be the winning goal. "But we kept having to hear, 'The U.S. won the Olympics.' It does make me feel a little more complete."
The most impressive part of Canada's victory was its 29-27 advantage in shots, even though the United States spent almost 16 minutes on the power play, compared with only six minutes for Canada.
"In a five-on-five situation, we knew we could beat them," Canadian forward Lori Dupuis said. "It's just unfortunate tonight we got so many penalties. Obviously in a five-on-four we can beat them. We just kept plugging away."
Meanwhile, St.-Pierre kept turning away the United States, power play or no power play.
"When it comes to the gold-medal games, they've always had a hard time finishing on our goaltenders," Canadian forward Vicky Sunohara said. "Finishing in exhibition games is great, but when it counts is when it counts."
Canada scored first 1:45 into the game, when Cherie Piper circled behind the net and shot. Sara DeCosta blocked it with her stick, but the puck went into the air and Caroline Ouellette tipped it past DeCosta.
That just made the Canadians hungrier. They were outshooting the U.S., 9-3, through the first 111/2 minutes of the game.
Then Canada received four consecutive penalties. The United States even had a two-skater advantage for a minute and nine seconds near the end of the period. It allowed the U.S. to send eight unanswered shots at St.-Pierre, but the Americans trailed, 1-0, at the end of the first.
Another penalty 71 seconds into the second period led to the Americans' first goal. Katie King redirected a Tara Mounsey slap shot from the blue line into the net.
That seemed to energize the Americans into their more familiar role as aggressors.
But Hayley Wickenheiser, who was named the tournament's most valuable player, took away the momentum just over two minutes later with her seventh goal of the Olympics.
The rest of the period was more penalties and more power-play failures.
In the waning seconds, Canada's Hefford broke free and bore down on DeCosta. DeCosta went down on her side and blocked the shot with her body, but the puck flipped over her and bounced across the goal line with only one second remaining.
It took four more Canadian penalties before the United States could convert, but finally Karyn Bye scored a power play goal with 3:33 remaining. The Americans scrambled desperately over the remaining minutes but couldn't get another shot past St.-Pierre.
"I just think that's the way the bounces went tonight," DeCosta said. "We're an amazing team, and Canada played really well tonight."
There were some gripes flying back and forth in the interview area afterward, with the Canadians saying the Americans had signed their names across the faces of Canadian players in pictures that hung in the Olympic village and that they stepped on a Canadian flag in the dressing room before the game.
"That is so ridiculous," U.S. forward Andrea Kilborne said. "That is so classless of them to even say that. I don't think anyone here would ever do that."