U.S. women's hockey star: Elusive Olympic gold medal "haunts" team

When Meghan Duggan and Hilary Knight lace up their hockey skates, a gold rush usually follows.

As teammates at the University of Wisconsin, the forwards anchored a dominant Badgers team that would win three national titles over four years – the "the golden years," said Knight, who holds the school record for goals scored. Duggan capped her college career by being named the nation's top women's ice hockey player. 

On the international stage, the teammates have claimed four gold medals at the Women's World Championships, including the title this year. At the 2008 Worlds, Duggan scored four goals and in 2009, Knight led the tournament with seven goals.

But at the Olympics, it’s been a different story. Team USA hasn't won a gold medal in hockey since Nagano in 1998, when the women's sport gained Olympic status. At the 2010 Games in Vancouver, the team had to settle for silver. Knight, who at age 20 was the youngest member of that team, says the players haven't forgotten.

 "It wasn't a great feeling and it's still a feeling that haunts a bunch of us today and it's definitely in the back of our minds that we don't want to feel that way again," Knight told CBS News. 

 The team that stopped the Americans from the gold medal podium in Vancouver was their longtime nemesis, Team Canada. The American and Canadian women have met in three of four Olympic finals, and all 15 women's world championships. Four of the past five worlds finals have been decided by one goal.

Duggan, 26, calls it "one of the greatest rivalries in sports" and emotions run high when the two teams square off on the ice. After the Americans' crushing loss to Team Canada in the 2012 worlds in Burlington, Vt., Team USA produced a video called "Border War" playing up the heated rivalry. (The Americans would get their revenge, beating Canada at the 2013 worlds in Ottawa to claim the gold).

In tune-up matches for Sochi, Knight has come through big time against their rival. On Dec. 28, Knight won the game with a shootout goal and in a rematch two days later, she scored in Team USA’s 3-2 win.

Duggan says the rivalry fosters mutual respect. But does it also breed contempt? In an exhibition game in Burlington in October, the two teams engaged in a full-on brawl after the Canadians took issue with a hit to their goalie. Knight was in the middle of another melee when the teams threw punches again in a December game in Grand Forks, N.D.

Duggan and Knight downplayed the fights, pointing out that it's part of hockey and the two teams have gotten into scraps before. Still, Knight conceded there is no love lost between the teams.

"We're extremely physical teams and you'll get the best game out of both of us when we're playing against each other, hands down," she said. "It's heated, your blood boils and you just want to put the other girls through the boards and put the puck in the back of the net and win."

While throwing punches in international play may be rare, getting hurt on the ice is not. Duggan was sidelined for 13 months after suffering a concussion in 2011. She recovered with the help of Dr. Ted Carrick, a chiropractor known for working with NHL superstar Sidney Crosby, who missed nearly one year with concussion symptoms.

"I had to battle really hard to come back," said Duggan, who stressed the importance of educating players about concussions. "It's a serious issue and I know it's definitely close to my heart."

It's an issue that also resonates with Caitlin Cahow, Duggan's longtime teammate who recently walked away from the sport after suffering two serious concussions. Cahow, who in December was named to the U.S. delegation for Sochi, said retiring from hockey was a tough decision but she has no regrets.

"It got to the point that I was so scared (after returning)," Cahow said. "I couldn’t handle the risk anymore and I just didn’t want to flip that coin again."

As for Duggan, she is healthy now and excited about the current squad's blend of youth and speed. She says if the team "puts all of the pieces of the puzzle together," the American women can finally end their Olympic gold medal drought.

"I think we can be untouchable," she said.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com

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