The author of this article is, as many of you are, an advocate for USA Hockey:
I’m not going to lie, this game was tough to watch.
Even though this was just a preliminary game, it had a lot of hype surrounding it given the intense rivalry between the two teams. Coming into Wednesday’s game, Canada had yet to put in a full 60 minute effort while the US had played two outstanding games against Finland and Switzerland. So it would be fitting that Canada walks away with the win, the three points and the bragging rights (for now at least) despite getting outplayed in the first 40 minutes and really only putting in their best effort in the last 20 minutes of the game.
The American ladies controlled the play for the first five minutes and had the ice fairly well tilted towards the Canadian goalie. Just 30 seconds in, Kelli Stack got a breakaway and nearly beat Charline Labonte but ripped the puck off the crossbar instead. It was a moment that had American fans everywhere going, “If only…” While Team USA did cede two individual breakaways in the first few minutes, most of the pressure was on Canada’s defense to prevent dangerous women such as Amanda Kessel, Kendall Coyne or either of the Lamoureux twins from getting too close to the net with the puck. One dangerous turnover in the defensive zone nearly saw Canada down 1-0 midway through the first period, if not for the solid positioning of their goaltender. Another one of those “Aw man, so close” moments.
Both teams had their fair share of turnovers in the first, neither was particularly sharp at moments, but in spite of that and the (lack of) score, Team USA was the better and far more dangerous team through 20 minutes.
Things got… interesting, shall we say, in the second period. The first few minutes started off very even, in a track meet between the two teams. But as time passed on, the Canadians got away with countless penalties, one that the referee herself was a part of but chose to ignore when she was into by an American player who had been pushed by a Canadian player. Later on the period, I counted three separate penalties where the Canadians got away with a hold and two body checks then one American player got away with a body check.
Look, I’m all for body checking in women’s hockey. I think it’s kind of dumb that it’s not legal and I don’t understand the rationalization that body checking is illegal in women’s hockey. It’s not like they don’t do it anyway and it’s not as if these women can’t handle the physical or mental strain of hitting.
Anyway, the officiating basically took over the game from here on out as Canada got away with an extended too many men penalty because there’s only one referee and she was a little busy watching the play unfold, despite the fact that Canada had SEVEN players on the ice for about 30 full seconds. Canada continued to get away with obvious body checks, a delay of game penalty (curiously called a hand pass instead) and surrendered Grade A scoring chances to their superior opponents (when you’re getting outplayed the way Canada was, that means your opponent is superior).
While on a penalty kill, Team USA had a great shorthanded chance with Hilary Knight springing Kelli Stack for a great opportunity, who was stoned by a smart Labonte.
Team USA’s dangerous power-play paid off at the end of the second period when Hilary Knight tipped in a goal from defenseman Anne Schleper. The referee finally called Canada for a body checking penalty and that goal gave Team USA a lot of life.
The third period opened with Brianna Decker taking a penalty less than a minute into the period, though some might argue that the woman Decker tripped went down a little easily (and it stings worse for Team USA fans who rightly felt that Canada had gotten away with several other penalties earlier in the game). Team Canada scored on their power-play and then were gifted (for some strange reason, not that they actually earned it) a goal from the referee.
Jessie Vetter, Team USA’s goalie, bobbled a save and the puck slid underneath her and into the net. However, and this is crucial, the whistle had very clearly blown before the puck had crossed the line entirely. So, more bad luck for Team USA as a supposedly impartial referee had not only done a very poor job officiating up to this point, gave Team Canada the lead. I saw it in real time and I saw it again on the replay. The whistle blows as the puck gets to the line but the puck has to cross the line entirely to be counted as a goal. That’s not a goal. Even in international hockey, the rule is still the same that the entire puck must cross the line before it is counted as a goal.
Basically, Team USA got shafted on two extremely poor calls and it’s such a joke that Team Canada walked away with the undeserved, unearned 3 points in this game. That goal was a back breaker and a game changer for Team USA. If the referee does her job properly, makes the right call, Team USA goes into overtime with Canada who may have walked away with the extra point still, or Team USA may have gotten a lucky bounce go their way and they ended up with the three points. Yes, I am going to blame officiating as the reason for Team USA losing this game. The referee has a responsibility to call the game fairly. When you call one team for penalties far more than another team who is doing the exact same thing and getting away with it, that’s not being a responsible official and is giving one team an unfair advantage. Now you may call me biased, and you’d be right. But it was pretty plain as day that Canada was getting away with tons of body checks, shoving their opponent down and had already gotten away with SEVEN players on the ice for much longer than the allotted eight second line change time. Oh, and those two extra players were involved in the play, creating an unfair advantage against Team USA.
I saw a lot of people saying that Team USA came out flat to start the third period, but I disagree. I thought they had just as much jump in their step as they had in the first period and I thought Canada got a fortuitous call their way and then another fortuitous call as the American women had started to retake control of the game. That’s an incredibly deflating goal and gave Team Canada momentum in the period, while also being a dagger in the side of the US women. As I said, that call was a joke and basically handed Canada the win in that game.
Here’s another point to the officiating: with just over eight minutes played in the third, the referee missed another too men penalty on Canada, who had six players on the ice, all of whom were participating in the play. It was a potential power-play opportunity for Team USA, and again, they were on the receiving end of a bad (non) call. Throughout the entire game, the television announcers on NBC Sports Network noted how few calls were actually going Team USA’s way. They were shocked several times at the calls that should have been.
In the end, Team USA’s comeback fell short as they managed to put a dent into Canada’s lead with only one goal. But, this game was not lost by USA’s poor play, though they had their moments. This game was ultimately lost due to extremely poor officiating, one that came a day after a very controversial non-goal gave Russia the win over Japan.
Team USA will not play again until February 17th in the semifinals with both opponent and time TBD.
I can only hope that karma is on Team USA’s side in the gold medal game and everything goes their way, including getting a well deserved gold medal. They’re pretty clearly the best team in the tournament and everything right just went Canada’s way on Wednesday. While deserve ain’t got nothin’ to do with it, only a gold medal will make up for such brutal luck.