NAGANO, Japan - Sandra Whyte spoke softly and carried a big stick. She had learned her lesson about trashy talk and forgotten none of her training in elegant hockey.
In the largest game of her life, Whyte was both decorous and deft; soft and yet sharp. Three days after incurring Canada's collective wrath with some ill-considered comments, Whyte returned to her best behavior and led Team USA to the first gold medal in Olympic women's hockey.
Depending on your point of view, Tuesday's 3-1 U.S. victory was either poetic justice or an insult compounded. Sandra Whyte had a hand in all three American goals. It had to be one of Canada's most mortifying moments since its flag flew upside down at the World Series.
Sunday night, shortly after the final buzzer of a 7-4 American victory, Whyte skated out of character long enough to make some ugly remarks to Canadian star Danielle Goyette. Whyte's exact quote is still at issue, but Canadian coach Shannon Miller alleged that one of the American players had made a tacky reference to Goyette's late father.
Whyte denied the specific charge, but acknowledged some regret over her general choice of words. She insisted that she had not mentioned Goyette's father, but the issue didn't die. Judy Whyte brought a jersey with her daughter's name on it to the Big Hat arena, but she decided against wearing it Tuesday night for fear of provoking Canadian fans.
Storybook end to bad story
Sandra Whyte has been forced to defend herself repeatedly the last few days, but Tuesday she defied defense. She assisted on the first two U.S. goals and scored the third after the Canadians were forced to pull their goalie in the last minute.
It was not vindication, necessarily, but it was certainly sweet.
''I'm glad for her,'' Judy Whyte said of her daughter. ''This is the end for her. I would have felt so bad if she went home and this (controversy) was all anyone was talking about. She couldn't go into elementary schools and have this hanging over her.''
Now, Sandra Whyte can perform show-and-tell with a gold medal hanging from her neck and a prominent place in the story. In one game, her role has improved from antagonist to protagonist. The ending could hardly be happier.
Responding to a question posed by USA hockey's publicity department before the season, Whyte described her hockey fantasy as follows: ''Gold medal game of the 1998 Olympics, USA crushes Canada, 5-0, and of course No. 9 scores two goals and adds a few assists.''
''When I was asked that question and made that response, it was kind of, almost, like a joke,'' Whyte said. ''But realistically, my goal was to come here and win the gold medal, which we did. And I'm obviously glad I was able to contribute.''
Letting bygones be bygones
She was happy to be responding again to hockey questions and relieved that the Canadians were inclined to let the issue drop. Though Danielle Goyette said she had received no apologies Tuesday night, she was the first Canadian player to congratulate the American team after the game. Her coach tried to bring closure to the controversy.
''None of us have ever identified anybody as far as saying anything,'' Miller said. ''Something was said to Danielle Goyette and it's been addressed, I feel, quite appropriately. And we've moved on from it.''
Friction between the two teams persists. Miller suggested that ''the floodgates would have opened'' had the Canadians been able to convert one of their opportunities early in the third period. Sandra Whyte alleged that the Canadians are consistently slow to credit their competition.
''I'll come out and say they're a great team,'' she said. ''They have great players. And they never say that about us, about our players. Any time we win it's always something kind of extraneous.''
Whyte intimated that Miller might have embellished her offensive quote to help motivate her team.
''It was disturbing to me just because I've always taken pride in the fact that I'm probably one of the last penalized players throughout USA hockey,'' Whyte said. ''That's probably the first time in my six years on this team that I actually opened my mouth.''
Columnist Tim Sullivan is covering the XVIII Winter Olympic Games for the Enquirer.
Special Enquirer Olympics coverage