THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Case closed?: Hockey party draws little heat

Canada's Haley Irwin (21) and Meghan Agosta (2) celebrate with cigars after Canada beat USA 2-0 to win the women's gold medal ice hockey game at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010. Canada's Haley Irwin (21) and Meghan Agosta (2) celebrate with cigars after Canada beat USA 2-0 to win the women's gold medal ice hockey game at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
By Greg Beacham
AP Sports Writer / February 26, 2010

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia—Carry on, ladies.

Canada's top Olympic official sees no reason to put a damper on the women's hockey team's beer-swigging, cigar-smoking celebration of its gold-medal victory over the U.S. team.

In Whistler and Vancouver, Olympic sentiment largely supported the players who went back onto the ice for an impromptu party well after the fans had left Canada Hockey Place on Thursday.

While the players spent much of Friday apologizing for their exuberance, several top Olympic officials praised the Canadians' third straight gold-medal run, even while encouraging them to be a bit more discreet next time.

"As far as we're concerned, the matter is closed," said Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee. "It was nothing more than an error of judgment committed at the exciting time of winning a gold medal. It was a spilling out of the celebration that was going on in the dressing room."

Other Olympians playfully wondered aloud what they could do to top the Canadian women's fiesta, which included players pouring drinks into each other's mouths, climbing on an ice-resurfacing machine and posing in front of Olympic logos with booze and stogies in hand -- all with gold medals dangling from their necks.

"We were hoping that celebration would stay private," forward Caroline Ouellette said. "We're very sorry if we may have offended some Canadians, but for some of our girls, it's the last time they'll ever skate at the Olympics. It's a tradition for our team. To go back on that ice and kiss it and take a picture is something special."

The International Olympic Committee said it would send a letter to Canadian organizers asking for more details about what happened, but was careful not to characterize the response as an investigation.

Asked whether a men's team would face the same scrutiny in a similar situation, goalie Shannon Szabados said: "I don't think so at all. When you're watching the Stanley Cup, they're all drinking champagne out of it."

Vancouver organizing chief John Furlong said it was simply a matter of "young kids who were happy."

"They had a great time," Furlong said. "They let their hair down. Yes, they said they were sorry, but they're great ambassadors for hockey, and they shouldn't regret what they did for a moment."

Well over an hour after the Canadians beat the Americans 2-0 on Thursday and were given their gold medals, 14 players returned to the ice still in their uniforms. Some wore wacky sunglasses and smoked cigars, while almost all were drinking beer or champagne.

Marie-Philip Poulin, the 18-year-old hero of the gold-medal game with two goals, had a beer in her hand while she's still a few weeks shy of the legal drinking age in British Columbia. The drinking age in Alberta, where the team trains, and her native Quebec is 18.

"At that moment, I didn't even realize it," Poulin said. "We're really sorry, and it won't happen again. We just wanted to enjoy the game and go back out on the ice."

Although the Canadians say they enjoy similar celebrations after most major international victories, including the Turin Games, they hadn't been given much occasion to party after losing the previous two world championships to the Americans. They certainly enjoyed the once-in-a-lifetime chance to win a gold medal at home, though.

Haley Irwin poured champagne into the mouth of Tessa Bonhomme. Goalies Charline Labonte and Kim St. Pierre posed at center ice for Poulin, lying on their stomachs with a giant bottle of champagne resting just above the Olympic rings. Rebecca Johnston even jumped into the driver's seat of the ice-resurfacing machine, mugging for pictures.

Gilbert Felli, the IOC's executive director of the Olympic Games, said Thursday the antics were "not what we want to see."

"If they celebrate in the changing room, that's one thing," he said, "but not in public."

A day later, IOC spokesman Mark Adams suggested the only outrage was coming from the press.

"To be honest, I think people are in search of a story that doesn't exist," he said. "I think people are looking for someone to say it's terrible."

The celebration was fairly brief, and included members of the team's support staff joyously marking the end of what passes for tough times in the Canadian program, which lost to the Americans in the last two world championships.

The Canadians trained together in Alberta for much of the past year, moving away from their homes and playing a grinding schedule against teams of teenage boys to train for the Olympics.

"I can tell you the last time I had a cigar was probably in Torino," said Jayna Hefford, a four-time Olympian. "No one on our team smokes, and we don't drink often. ... Some of the best memories we have are from going out on the ice and getting pictures by a logo. I guess we just got carried away with the celebration. We should have left it in the dressing room."

Hockey Canada apologized in a statement several hours after the match and said it regrets any embarrassment to the IOC or Canadian organizers, vowing to uphold Olympic standards in the future.

Yet boisterous celebration hasn't been uncommon at these Olympics.

After Jon Montgomery won a gold medal for Canada in skeleton, he walked the streets of Whistler guzzling from a pitcher of beer. American Scotty Lago, who won a bronze in halfpipe, voluntarily left the games after a party photo surfaced of a woman kneeling below his waist to kiss the medal.

And after photos of the hockey players got wide international attention, most athletes applauded.

"We were thinking about what we could do to rival them," Michelle Gorgone, an American parallel giant slalom snowboarder, said with a laugh. "I'm probably not allowed to say that.

"The Olympics dates back a ways, so you've got to be respectful of the roots so when you're partying, try to keep it respectful and keep it clean. But everyone wants to have a good time, and mistakes happen."

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AP Sports Writers Stephen Wilson and Will Graves, AP National Writer David Crary and Associated Press writer Erin McClam contributed to this report.