Brianna Decker was screaming, her agony audible for most everyone to hear in an arena that was nearly empty. The cries kept coming, the first period’s clock stopped at 10:58.
Within an hour, American hockey officials confirmed what most everyone could assume: Decker, one of the most formidable and experienced players for the U.S. women’s team, would not return to the game against Finland on Thursday. Her status for the remainder of the Games appeared in doubt, a potentially harsh blow to American ambitions to repeat as Olympic champions.
The United States did not bring a taxi squad of replacement players to Beijing.
Decker, a forward from Dousman, Wis., is on her third Olympic roster, just four years after she led the United States in assists during its gold medal run at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. This year, she is an alternate captain.
After medical officials evacuated an alert and calm Decker from the ice on a stretcher, the Americans responded swiftly. Amanda Kessel slowly approached the net along the goal line, then edged around the crease and, just 21 seconds after play resumed, scored the first goal of the tournament for the United States.
Less than three minutes later, Alex Carpenter scored on a power play to add to the U.S. lead. The Americans added two more goals in the second period.
Although the game against Finland is essentially a glorified scrimmage — both teams are guaranteed to advance to the tournament’s next round — the matchup was an opportunity for both teams to take early measures of formidable rivals.
Finland won the bronze in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018. Canada, which took silver that year, beat Switzerland, 12-1, earlier on Thursday.