Friendship was set aside as Okanagan Hockey Academy teammates Alex Gulstene and Olivia Knowles battled for a International Ice Hockey Federation U18 World championship.
Gulstene and Team U.S.A topped Knowles and Team Canada 3-2 in overtime on Jan. 15 with Natalie Snodgrass breaking Canada’s heart at 1:47.
“It’s one of the most amazing feelings in the world,” said Gulstene, who had a 1.48 goals against average and .947 save percentage against Canada in two games. “Even to just be there with such a great group of girls and just represent my country is just such an unbelievable feeling.”
Going head-to-head with Knowles was interesting for the Evanston, Ill., native. She described it as weird to see Knowles on the other side of the blue line, not helping.
“She’s a good player. She backed a good team,” said Gulstene, who was 3-0 for the U.S. with a minuscule 0.99 goals against average and .954 save percentage with one shutout in the tournament.
Gulstene recalled their first meeting in the preliminary round in St. Catharines, Ont.
“She took a snapshot from the blue line. I caught it and I just looked up at her and gave her a little nod,” she said.
“I thought she played awesome throughout the whole tournament,” said Knowles, a defenceman from Campbell River. “We always saw each other in the hall. Stayed at the same hotel, kind of waved, then wouldn’t. I wished the best for her. She played really, really well.”
Gulstene and the U.S. trailed Canada 2-0 until 15:20 of the second period when Alex Woken scored. The U.S. then pulled even at 8:03. Gulstene never lost faith in her team. In overtime, the atmosphere was stressful for her.
“Going in, Canada had the crowd,” she said.
Knowles admitted the fan support was nearly overwhelming.
“It was amazing,” she said of the atmosphere in the Meridian Centre.
Gulstene cherishes the moment after winning and before, getting to know her teammates and the laughs they shared.
Knowles still grieves the loss, but added they are preparing for next year already. They take pride in their silver medal.
“If you asked us to play that game again, we wouldn’t change the way we played,” said Knowles, who now uses her silver medal as a reminder to work harder. “We played well. We worked hard. We are proud of how we played and we are proud that it was on home soil.”