The only goaltender in history to shut out Canada, DeCosta (whose mother is Jewish) was a member of the U.S. women's ice hockey team that struck gold at the 1998 Nagano Games, the first time the sport was an Olympic competition. She played three games for the U.S., winning all three contests in the preliminary round, including a shut-out against Japan. During the competition, DeCosta split the goaltending duties with Sarah Tueting as they rotated game-to-game. Although it was DeCosta's turn to start in the gold medal game, coach Ben Smith decided to play Tueting instead, explaining that DeCosta would be better off the bench. During the Games, DeCosta posted a .875 save percentage and a 1.59 goals against average.
Both DeCosta and Tueting returned to the Olympics at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, and again split the goaltending duties. Leading up the Olympics, coach Ben Smith rotated his goalies as the U.S. went 31-0 in exhibition games and tournaments. DeCosta started the U.S.'s first game of the tournament as they defeated Germany, 10-0; she had to make only eight saves while the U.S. got off 52 shots. After Tueting led the U.S. to a 12-1 win over China, DeCosta returned to the net in their third game against Finland.
In the first period, she played magnificently, blocking three point-blank shots during a Finnish power play. On the third shot, Sara passed the puck up ice, which led to an American breakaway, and a short-handed goal (DeCosta received an assist). The U.S. defeated Finland, 5-0, to advance to the finals.
Because of the rotating system, coach Ben Smith chose DeCosta to start the gold medal game against Canada. Prior to the Games, Tueting said of the situation, "I want to play. I didn't train for three years to ride the pine. But if Sara plays, I'll be 100 percent behind her, like she was for me in '98. I know what being a good teammate is. I know if Sara plays, we have a good chance of winning...the team has confidence in both of us...She's a great teammate and a great friend. There's no doubt about it, it's a hard situation. But I feel like if I don't play, I'll probably win a gold medal anyway."
DeCosta played well in the gold medal game, making 26 saves, but was knocked off balance by an American defender on one goal and was the victim of a porous U.S. defense in the closing seconds of the second period as Canada scored with one second left to take a 3-1 lead. The U.S. scored once in the final period but could muster no more and lost, 3-2.
A member of the boys hockey's team in high school, DeCosta was the squad's MVP at Toll Gate High School in 1995 and 1996. In 1996, she became the first girl to play in the Rhode Island Interscholastic League Championship Division. DeCosta, who helped Toll Gate become the first public school in 14 years to reach the best-of-three title round, was named all-tournament, all-city, and all-state.
In 1996-97, DeCosta enrolled at Providence College. That year, she had a 18-7-2 record and a 2.66 goals against average, earning All-Eastern College Athletic Conference honorable mention her freshman year. 1996 also marked DeCosta's first appearance for the U.S. National team, as she played at the IIHF Pacific Women's Hockey Championship.
In 1997, DeCosta did not play at Providence because she competed in the 1997-98 pre-Olympic tour. She played in nine games and compiled a 6-2-0 record, leading all U.S. goaltenders with a .941 save percentage and a 1.30 goals against average. During the tour, five of her six victories were shutouts, including one against Canada in the final of the 1997 Three Nations Cup. The victory cemented her spot on the 1998 Olympic team. It was the first time the U.S. had ever beaten Canada in a tournament, and the first time Canada had ever been shutout.
In 1998-99, DeCosta returned to Providence and led the nation with a .943 save percentage, was fifth in goals against average (1.50) and had a record of 17-10-3 (seven shutouts). She was named 2000 USA Hockey Women's Player of the Year and played exceptionally for the U.S. National team. She did not play at Providence her senior year, and instead played exclusively with the U.S. National team as they prepared for the 2002 Olympics.
DeCosta was an important member of the U.S. team in the early 2000s. She was 11-1-1 with 1.28 goals against average in 2000-2001, including 2-0-0 (0.50 GAA) in the 2001 World Championships as the U.S. captured the silver medal. On the U.S. Olympic Committee's website, DeCosta said about the stereotypes of being a goalie, "They say goalies are a little crazy and different but, goalie is a unique position. I mean I guess you have to be a little strange to stand in front of a puck that's going at you like 90 mph at your head."
In 2002-03, DeCosta was a volunteer coach for the women's hockey team at Providence.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. May 13, 1977
Warwick, Rhode Island