Having featured as a men’s Olympic sport for the previous 78 years, women's ice hockey made its first appearance on the Olympic programme at Nagano 1998. The USA and Canada had dominated women's ice hockey for decades.
About 80% of the world's players came from those two countries and the rivalry between them was intense. In the run-up to the Nagano Games, the two rivals contested no fewer than 13 games, with Canada just edging the bragging rights by a score of 7-6.
Unsurprisingly, the two teams beat everyone else in their qualifying matches, but then met in their final round-robin game before the final. The match was, in many senses, an empty rubber – both would still qualify for the final regardless of the result, but there was plenty of pride at stake.
Canada charged into a 4-1 lead. Back, though, came the Americans with six goals in the final 15 minutes to win 7-4 and take a psychological advantage into the final.
The gold medal match proved a much tighter encounter. There were no scores in the opening period but the deadlock was broken two minutes into the second period, as the USA’s Gretchen Ulion scored a power-play goal.
The US lead was doubled in the third period by Shelley Looney, before Canada's top scorer, Danielle Goyette, reduced the arrears to 2-1. A few minutes later a shot by Canada's Stacy Wilson nearly crept it, but was cleared by goaltender Sarah Tueting, and moments later the USA made it 3-1 as Sandra Whyte scored into an empty net, after the Canadians had taken off their goaltender as they went in search of an equaliser.
The USA were crowned the first ever champions and women's ice hockey marked its arrival on the Olympic scene in thrilling style.