Women's hockey made its debut at the Olympics Games in Nagano in 1998 with a six-team field comprising Canada, the United States, Finland, Sweden, China and Japan. As winners of every previous Women's World Championship (1990, 1992, 1994 and 1997) Canada was expected to bring home the first women's Olympic gold medal, but the tide was clearly turning in the months leading up to the tournament. A 15-game pre-Olympic series between Canada and the U.S., saw the Americans post an 8-7-0 record. The United States also defeated Canada handily at the Three Nations Cup in Lake Placid prior to Christmas 1997.
Having won all of the medals available at the previous World Championships, Canada, the United States and Finland were clearly the class of the Women's Olympic tournament and proved it in their opening games as Canada beat Japan 13-0, the U.S. beat China 5-0 and Finland beat Sweden 6-0. Canada, however, struggled through its next three games, managing only a 2-0 win over China, a 5-3 win over Sweden and a 4-2 win over Finland while the Americans ran up victories of 7-1, 4-2 and 10-0 over Sweden, Finland, and Japan. Leslie Reddon was struggling in goal for the Canadians, though Manon Rheaume was solid. However, the two were not providing the type of clutch goaltending the Americans were receiving from their duo of Sarah Tueting and Sara Decosta. This point was made clear when the Canadians and American met to close out the preliminary round. Reddon allowed the U.S. to score six goals in a span of 11:53 late in the third period as the Americans turned a 4-1 deficit into a 7-4 victory and finished with a perfect 5-0 record. Canada was 4-1, but would have its chance for revenge in the gold medal game.
Meanwhile, Finland had proven to be the best of the rest, finishing the preliminary round with a record of 3-2. China, who had defeated Japan and Sweden by scores of 6-1 and 3-1, provided the opposition for Finland in the bronze medal. The Finns were 4-1 winners behind a goal and an assist from Rikka Nieminen, who led the tournament in scoring with 12 points on seven goals and five assists.
Sarah Tueting and Manon Rheaume provided solid goaltending for their respective countries in the gold medal clash between the United States and Canada, but Tueting proved just a little bit better as the Americans carried a 2-0 lead into the game's final minutes. Danielle Goyette (who was the tournament's leading goal-scorer with nine goals despite the death of her father shortly before the Olympics) got Canada on the scoreboard at 15:59 of the third period, but an empty-net goal at 19:52 sealed Canada's fate. While American captain Cammie Granato led her teammates in celebration, the Canadian women could not conceal their disappointment in taking home a silver medal from the most important tournament of their lives.