The Americans were better and Canada still won women’s hockey showdown
Team USA was a terror, outshooting the Canadians 45-23, but just couldn’t score in a snarly preview of the gold-medal game, Bruce Arthur writes.
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PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA—Maybe Canada has their number, and the myths we tell ourselves are real. On Thursday the Americans were coming, and the sound was not trumpets and the thunder of feet, but the slashing hiss of skates and the deep ping of the goal posts, like hitting a xylophone just right, so the tone lasts. The Americans were coming, and it wasn’t even the big show yet, and Canada was holding on.
But Canada escaped with a 2-1 over the United States here in the preliminary skirmish for the sport’s dominant women’s hockey powers, and maybe that means the Americans are in trouble. They should have won in Sochi; they spent four years building towards another Olympic try. And in a snarling game that ended with the last of at least half a dozen goalmouth donnybrooks, the lesson was simple: the United States was the better team, and Canada won.
“(We win that game) eight times out of 10,” said American forward Amanda Kessel, who had six shots on goal as the U.S. outshot Canada 45-23. “That’s why I feel really good about it, and our team should, too. I think we put a great effort, and I think we put some doubt in Canadians’ minds.”
Or, alternately, that of the Americans. Canada has won the last four gold medals, and even though this group has had the largest turnover in leadership in the program’s history — no more Caroline Ouellette, no more Hayley Wickenheiser, no more Jayna Hefford — they are still steeped in the legend of the program.
“We buried the chances we had,” said winger Meghan Agosta, who scored Canada’s first goal off a sparkling no-look pass from Natalie Spooner on a second-period power play, and is now Canada’s second-leading Olympic goal scorer of all time. “Do I think we have another level? Of course.”
They will need it, because the Americans were a terror. five-foot-two winger Kendall Coyne scored the lone U.S. goal on a rush that looked like Pavel Bure as much as anything, slicing through four Canadian jerseys like scissors through fabric and beating Genevieve Lacasse five-hole. Coyne had seven shots on goal, Kessel six, Brianna Decker five. American skaters created space, attacked in waves, hit four posts, and got a penalty shot.
“I think we gave them a lot tonight,” said Canadian centre Blayre Turnbull. “I don’t think we can give them all those shots. We’re lucky our goalie had a really good game. Next time we face them, we have to more prepared to play some better defence, and keep the puck in their end.”
Games between these teams are full of scrambling dangers, full of chances to score, and the Americans had more than their share. They just couldn’t score.
“What else are you going to do?” said U.S. coach Robb Stauber. “That’s one of the things that you can control, your energy, your effort, and pucks either end up over the goal line, or they don’t. And that’s hockey.”
Canada can point to the two disallowed goals on questionable calls — one from Brigette Lacquette negated by a quick and not entirely explicable whistle, and another when a Spooner pass that deflected in off Haley Irwin’s skates was deemed a kick, rather than a redirection
But the Americans can point to the fact that when a wicked Canadian wrist shot from Sarah Nurse hit the goalie’s shoulder it went in, and when an American did that to Lacasse it hit the post. They can point to Canadian defenceman Renata Fast having to sweep a puck off the goal line, or the puck that hit a post and came straight back out and somehow eluded the back of Lacasse’s pads, or a dozen other nearly plays. Canada told itself the stories that every team that gets outplayed tells themselves; we kept them to the outside, they hit the outside of the posts.
“From the dead angle you just take up as much space as you can, and the rest, that’s all they have,” said Lacasse, who made 44 saves. “So they hit the post, ehh, that’s all you had there.”
But the Americans were better. These teams won’t see each other until the gold medal, unless something goes wrong. And after four years of change and preparation, Canada has six days to close that gap.
“Yeah, I think if you look at puck possession, time and zone . . . that’s the positive that we’ll take away from today,” said Coyne. “I think they know that, and we know that, and it’s going to be about the next game here for us. It’s just finding a way. We’ve just got to find a way.”
Maybe Canada is in their heads. On the penalty shot American Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson faked going back between the legs before pulling it into a backhand, and Lacasse didn’t blink; she grinned after the stop, and winked at a teammate. Canada wins the big ones. That’s the story.
Well, we’ll see. There is a quote from former Red Army player Alexander Yakushev about the Summit Series that Hockey Canada treasures. It reads, in part, “We would have loved for this series to end in a tie. It would be fair for us and for Canadians. But that goal proves how Canadians have that special quality. They fight until that last second. They push until they get what they want.”
We should know by now that quality isn’t limited to Canada. Either the Americans finally overcome Canada, or they get their hearts broken again.
The Americans are coming, and they might even be here.