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Looking back: The "Miracle in Sochi" two years later

Two years ago yesterday, one of the best hockey games in history - men's or women's - was played. With everything on the line.

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

It was February 20, 2014. The two best women's hockey teams in the world were facing off for the Gold Medal. It's always a good game when Canada and the United States face off but it was never like this and, really, it probably never will be again.

I had the opportunity to talk to several people who took part in that game: Tara Watchorn, Lauriane Rougeau, Caroline Ouellette, Natalie Spooner and of course Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored the tying and winning goals from Team Canada. I also spoke to Julie Chu from Team USA. Charline Labonté and Geneviève Lacasse were on Team Canada but were backups for the Gold Medal game.

They will be the ones to tell the story as they looked back at the game, and look at what has changed in their sport.

The Day

Caroline Ouellette: "It’s a very special day. I can’t believe it’s been two years."

Tara Watchorn: "I knew as soon as I woke up today. I knew what day it was and hearing the anthem play before the [Boston-Montreal CWHL] game just gave me chills. It hits you really hard and it feels good and talking to Pou (Poulin) out there, saying ‘Happy Anniversary’, it’s all fond memories."

Lauriane Rougeau: "This morning my mom said ‘Happy two year Anniversary’ and looking back it brings a lot of good memories, it was a great experience one of the best of my life, the best hockey moment of my life and I’ll never forget it."

Photo Credit: USA Today Sports

Marie-Philip Poulin: "When I think about it, there’s a lot of shivers, a lot of memories, I mean it was such an unbelievable moment in women’s hockey not just for us and our win but all of women’s hockey. It really put hockey on the map and the way it happened, with two great teams that played against each other and for so many years, such a rivalry, and the way it happened it was like a fairy tale."

Ouellette: "[February 20] is the 2 year anniversary from Sochi but also 10 years from Torino so that makes me feel a little old but it’s a special moment and I feel so thankful to be a part of those Canadian teams that were successful."

Team Canada worked together for the entire season in a centralization camp and were put through a grueling fitness regime. Less than two months before the Olympics, their head coach Dan Church resigned and Kevin Dineen was hired.

Charline Labonté: "It was my fourth centralization for the Olympics and it was by far my hardest year because everything went wrong. Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. We kept losing to the US. Our best players, [Poulin] and a couple of other players were injured. We lost confidence at some points, we lost our head coach. It was just one thing after another and a lot of people didn’t think we’d make it because everything was so bad."

"But there are so many things that pushed us so far outside of our comfort zone. We had a boot camp in Penticton, BC and we had to climb a mountain on bikes and it was a total disaster. But that was the moment I knew we could really accomplish anything because everyone finished and everyone was able to do it."

Rougeau: "We spent a year together so we went through a lot of hard times, a lot of high’s and low’s and they’ve always been there for me and they are my second family, my sisters and I have a lot of great memories of hanging out with my roommates and having fun with the team. For me looking back at it they are friendships that will last a lifetime, that’s what hockey is all about."

Natalie Spooner: "Having worked so hard to get there, along with the journey our team had that year leading up to the Olympics... It made the whole Olympic experience very special."

Labonté: "It was such a struggle and we were struggling even two weeks before the Olympics losing to high school teams. But I really believed in that team and Kevin Dineen did a crazy amazing job, he brought our confidence back up and he gave us freedom, creativity and we just loved each other."

Geneviève Lacasse: "We went through some really tough hardships together and I think that really got us good mentally and gave us a no quit mentality."

That no quit mentality would come in handy. We'll continue this story in the third period. Canada was down 2-0 with under five minutes remaining.

Spooner: "That last game was a roller coaster of emotions. So many ups and downs. As time is winding down in the game, it's hard not to let your mind go a bit negative. But we all knew as a team that we had been through so many hard times that year and knew we would never give up."

Watchorn: "Even though we were down there was no doubt that we could do it. Not that we knew for sure that we were going to do it but there was no doubt that we had it in us."

Labonté: "It’s so tough because there’s nothing I could control. There’s being there for your teammates but in terms of the play there’s nothing you could do. Just sit back, relax and watch. But it was so stressful."

"I remember I was on one end of the bench and there’s five minutes left in the game and it’s still 2-0 and I remember thinking ‘I can’t even look at my players. I can’t imagine what’s going through their heads, their body language must be terrible’ and then I actually looked over and everyone was so into it. And I couldn’t believe how much they still believed when it was 2-0, five minutes left, Gold Medal game and chances are you’re not going to win that game so that was the moment where I was like ‘we really have a chance.’ It was crazy but it was tough because I had to accept there’s nothing I could do."

While Labonté was on the bench, Lacasse was in the stands as the team's third goaltender.

Lacasse: "I think it’s a lot harder not being on the bench. You don’t really know the vibe or what’s going on so that was really nerve-wracking."

"It was tough because there was no control. At least if you were on the bench you could try to get the girls going but I trusted in our older players that they would really bring the team together and we looked calm and the momentum was going in our way and they were so full of confidence."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Rougeau: "It was really nerve-wracking. It comes down to 4 minutes left, down 2-0 and you want to believe and that’s what we did. We stayed calm and a lot of veterans were really calm on the bench."

Ouellette: "We were down 2-0 late in the game and so many times in that year we had to fight back and fight for 60 minutes or more and we had a resilient team that weren’t going to give up and that’s how we carried ourselves that’s how we played"

With 3:26 left in the third period, Brianne Jenner took a shot that pinballed in the net. It made the game 2-1.

Then, with 1:30 left, Catherine Ward was trying to keep the puck in the USA zone. The official got in her way and allowed for Kelli Stack to clear the puck down the ice with the Canadian net empty. You know the story. The puck went the length of the ice and hit the post.

Labonté: "It took five seconds but there was so much that went through my mind. We don’t deserve to lose that way. This is not a 3-1 game. I was just… No. We worked way too hard for this to be our fate and it hit the post and it was like ‘what the heck just happened?’ It was crazy. I like to think that’s what we deserved."

Spooner: "Once the puck hit the post we got some energy and knew we had to throw everything we had at them."

Rougeau: "When the puck hit the post I remember I just grabbed Meaghan Mikkelson and I was like ‘Oh my God this is a sign from God that we’re supposed to win tonight.'"

Ouellette: "We were lucky that puck goes down, turns up and hits the post. It’s a miracle in many ways and I feel very blessed."

After that reprieve, Poulin was able to tie the game up with 54.6 seconds left in the game when she picked up a loose puck in the slot and fired it in the net.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Lacasse: "I was just jumping. I was with our strength coach and our massage therapist and some of our team staff and we were just hugging each other and going pretty crazy."

That brought overtime and it started fast and furious. To better take in the action, Lacasse moved from the stands to ice level right beside the door. "I wanted to get right near the ice when we won," Lacasse said. There was a short-lived US power play and then the four-on-four action saw a lot of scoring chances, especially on Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados.

Lacasse: "I feel like they had a couple of good chances at the start of overtime and Szaby came up huge for us and I think that really got our team going."

Rougeau: "In overtime I don’t think we would have won without Shannon Szabados in net, the first five minutes of overtime she made some incredible saves."

Then, after Hilary Knight was called for taking down Hayley Wickenheiser on a breakaway, Canada went on a 4-on-3 power play. Poulin, Wickenheiser, Laura Fortino and Rebecca Johnston were called on for Canada. With 11:50 remaining in overtime, Poulin won it.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Lacasse: "Where I was, the bench was to my right and I was right beside the door and I was right behind Poulin so I saw it go right in and I double checked to make sure it was in the net because she wasn’t celebrating so I wasn’t really sure."

Labonté: "You know Poulin, she doesn’t celebrate that much. From my angle, she was right there and I couldn’t really see the net because she was facing the net and I remember she shot that puck and I jumped because I thought we had scored but then I saw her reaction and I was like ‘crap, we didn’t score’ because she would be celebrating. Poulin is just so humble. It wasn’t ‘look at me celebrate’ it was ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me.’"

Rougeau: "I've never jumped so high in my life."

Poulin: "To be honest, I couldn’t believe it happened. It was just a relief and I just looked towards the bench and to see the whole team coming off the bench and my teammates so happy. It was the best feeling ever."

Ouellette: "In many ways it still feels surreal that we were able to come back so late in the game and I’m forever grateful to Marie-Philip Poulin, our hero. She’s just unbelievable."

Spooner: "All I could think about was getting on the ice as quick as possible to celebrate with my teammates. I was so excited and also a bit in shock thinking we just won an Olympic gold medal."

Lacasse: "I realized it was in and came out the door and actually Gillian Apps almost sideswiped me because she didn’t see me coming out there but I just wanted to get with my teammates as fast as I could."

Spooner: "I also felt very relieved. The year had been very tough physically and mentally. There is a lot of pressure put on Canada to win. And we never wanted to let ourselves, our teammates or Canada down. We had accomplished our ultimate goal. Gold!"

For the women's hockey world, this was the game that changed things. It has put more attention on the sport even two years later between Olympics.

Julie Chu: "In 2010, being in Vancouver started the ball rolling in Canada but in 2014, it really launched it in North America. In the US there was more knowledge of the game. You could walk in an airport and there are people who come up to you and say ‘I saw that game and it was awesome.’ And it’s not about recognition but it’s the idea people watched and they were so enthralled by it. That’s been a huge reason why in our league we’ve had so much success and why in Montreal we’ve had an amazing fan base that continues to grow."

Poulin: "When we were in Sochi we didn’t know what was going on in Canada. And when we came back that’s when we realized it was pretty big. To see videos, to see people when we see them on the street that they still remember where they were when they watched that game... It just showed us what happened that day and it’s quite amazing to see."

Labonté: "Our biggest challenge is that people love to watch the Olympics. There’s a huge rise in the interest of women’s hockey. Which is great but I think for us as women’s hockey players we’re trying to close the gap and we’re not trying to draw interest every four years, we’re trying to draw it every year. And I think this year we were able to do that with the partnership with the Montreal Canadiens and you can see the difference in the stands and they are a part of our success so it’s cool to see that gap of four years is closing."