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Canada 3, United States 2

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (AP) _ The balance of power between the world's two best women's hockey teams has shifted back north of the border.

Canada won the Olympic gold medal Thursday night, beating the United States 3-2 to snap an eight-game losing streak against the Americans and avenge a loss from the inaugural final in Nagano.

``Everyone was expecting us to win. We expected to win,'' U.S. defenseman Angela Ruggiero said. ``That's why it's so disappointing.''

Hayley Wickenheiser broke a second-period tie and Kim St-Pierre stopped 25 shots for Canada. It is the first Olympic gold for Team Canada _ male or female _ since 1952, when the men won for the sixth time in seven tries.

``It's our sport. It's the medal we want,'' defenseman Therese Brisson said. ``There's a lot of passion about hockey in Canada, and it's something that means something to a lot of Canadians.''

Wickenheiser, known in her homeland as the female Wayne Gretzky, was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, and St-Pierre its top goalie.

Wickenheiser held her 22-month-old son while waiting on the ice for her gold medal. Both teams wept _ the Canadians locking arms in the middle of the ice while the Americans stood to the side, more sullen than the Swedes who took the bronze.

``We were 8-0 against them and everyone said we'd win,'' said Lyndsay Wall, a 16-year-old U.S. defenseman at her first Olympics. ``It's a lot of pressure. We felt it toward the end, and couldn't pull it out.''

The North Americans dominated the early games _ as they did in Nagano and at every international tournament since the first world champion was crowned in 1990. Neither the United States nor Canada has ever lost to anyone but each other, and Thursday's matchup was all-but presumed from the Opening Ceremonies.

The first ``U-S-A!'' chants started before the game did, and before either team was on the ice. Several men's hockey players showed up to support the Americans as well.

But the Canadians had a vocal contingent of their own, including Gretzky, singer Alanis Morissette and figure skating gold medalists Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who spoke to the team the morning of the game.

Their message came through clear.

``They said, 'It's not about this at all,''' Brisson said, fingering the gold medal around her neck. '``It's about being your best on the night that it counts.'

``This is wonderful. Hearing your anthem is wonderful. But even without this, I'd do it all over again.''

Canada invented hockey and won the first four Olympic golds. Stuck in a 50-year slump, though, Gretzky was called in to restore the men's program.

But it was Wickenheiser who ended the drought.

Sara DeCosta stopped 26 shots in the game, but defender Sue Merz _ who went to the ice trying to stop the original shot _ was in the goalie's way when Wickenheiser knocked the rebound of Danielle Goyette's shot in to make it 2-1 at 4:10 of the first period.

Canada made it 3-1 with one second left in the second when Jayna Hefford grabbed a bouncing puck with her glove, placed it in front of her stick and shot it off DeCosta. The puck landed behind her and trickled into the net.

The United States pulled within one when Karyn Bye's shot deflected off a Canadian stick into the net with 3:33 left in the game. Despite pulling DeCosta after a timeout with 1:14 left, the Americans couldn't tie it.

The Canadians poured over the boards onto the ice at the final buzzer, throwing their equipment into the air. Having beaten the United States in every world championship ever played, the Olympic gold was the one prize they still sought.

``It feels really good to be able to complete the set,'' Brisson said.

Canada scored just 1:45 into the game when Cherie Piper took the puck around the back of the net and put it off defender A.J. Mleczko's skate. Caroline Ouellette whacked at puck in front of net as it squirted past DeCosta to make it 1-0.

It was the first goal allowed by DeCosta at the Olympics and the first time the Americans trailed.

The Canadians survived two first-period 5-on-3s to carry the lead into the second before Tara Mounsey's shot from the blue line was tipped first by Cammi Granato and then ramped off the back of Katie King's blade into the top of the net.

After Wickenheiser made it 2-1, Bye just missed tying it when her shot went through the crease and off the far post. Krissy Wendell raised her arms in celebration, but play went on.
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