Olympics Winter

Best women's team ever?

Strong goaltending, a solid defence and balanced attack helped the Canadian women's hockey team to its second consecutive Olympic gold medal on Monday

They outscored the opposition 46-2, outshot them 222-55 and boasted the leading scorer and most valuable player in the women's Olympic hockey tournament.

It added up to a second consecutive gold medal for Canada, the only country with multiple gold since the women's game became an Olympic sport in 1998 in Nagano.

But are they worthy of being called the best women's team ever assembled?

Tourney MVP Hayley Wickenheiser, who led all players with 17 points despite playing with a broken bone in her wrist, called this year's team the most prepared of any team she's ever played on

"Certainly we had four [forward] lines that could score against any country," Wickenheiser, a member of the national team since 1995, told CBC Sports. "We were prepared, well coached as [any team] I've been on and I'm very proud of this team."

Added captain Cassie Campbell: "It's the most professional team I think I've ever played on as far as understanding each other."

Following Monday's 4-1 gold-medal victory over Sweden, three-time Olympian Jayna Hefford also stopped short of calling this year's squad the best.

"Maybe the most balanced team," the 28-year-old forward said. "Any line can score and that's important when it comes down to it. We know we had strong goaltending. We had a solid defence. It was just a real team [effort]."

But the Canadians didn't have to play the arch-rival Americans for gold after Sweden shocked the 2002 Olympic silver medallists with a 3-2 shootout win in the semifinals.

It marked the first time Canada and the U.S. haven't met in the final of a major international competition since 1990.

For the past 16 years, the Canadians have been the dominant presence in women's hockey.

They have won eight of nine world championships, captured gold over the United States at the 2002 Winter Olympics and won the 2005-06 season series between the teams 7-2.

They also defeated the Americans 7-0 in the final at a pre-Olympic tournament last November.

But in fairness to the U.S., it is the reigning world champion and has a 2-1 record against Canada in Olympic competition.

The Canadians will leave Turin, Italy, having not allowed an even-strength goal in international competition since the 2004 world championships.

The 20 players will go their separate ways, some for the last time as Olympic teammates. Campbell, Wickenheiser and Vicky Sunohara may not return for the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

"I'm just going to enjoy this right now," said Campbell, who hails from Brampton, Ont. "This is beautiful and just a great team effort."

Veteran forward Danielle Goyette has competed in her final Winter Olympics, but she hopes to play one more season with the national squad.

She said she will go into coaching if she's not invited back.

"I don't think I could live without hockey," she said.

For others, like rookies Megan Agosta and Katie Weatherston and goaltender Charline Labonte, they will be staring at new roles for the 2010 Games.

"I think we're going to have quite a bit of turnover," said Wickenheiser, who combined with linemates Gillian Apps and Cherie Piper for 46 points at these Olympics. "Certainly for 2010 I think it will be a totally different team. It's good for women's hockey."

Apps and Piper shared the goal-scoring title with seven apiece.

Labonte stopped 41 of 42 shots in Turin, including seven in the final, and is slowly emerging as an heir to two-time Olympic gold medallist Kim St. Pierre.

That's encouraging news for Canadian coach Melody Davidson, whose club lost only twice in 26 games this season.