Team Canada bested the Americans in a 3-2 decision yesterday in Sochi. It was the most anticipated match of the Women’s Ice Hockey Preliminary Round, featuring the two teams ostensibly destined to meet again in the ultimate game for gold. Both teams already earned a bye straight into the Semifinals with a win each over Finland and Switzerland, so this game couldn’t possibly mean all that much – Right? Try telling them.
Team USA and Canada have a fierce rivalry that is deeply rooted in their history of play against one another. They love nothing more than to beat each other, and when these two get a chance to play, they leave everything on the ice. This was the first time in Olympic history that the United States and Canada faced off in the Preliminary round, due to the new format to keep the games more competitive.
“I’ve been pretty open about the fact that it’s great for our game and the fans to have a match up like this in the preliminary round,” said head coach Katey Stone. “I think it’s a good test. For the players it certainly helps them get their feet wet when it comes to intensity and the environment.”
The opening period was a scoreless one as both teams played pretty evenly. The United States took two penalties, while the Canadians had one. Team USA had the slight edge in shots, getting 11 on Canada goalie Charline Labonté, while allowing 8 on Jessie Vetter.
The second period was where the US Women seemed to shine. A power play goal 17:34 into the frame opened the scoring and gave the United States the lead. Alex Carpenter was able to set up a shot from the point for Anne Schleper, which was directed into the net by Hilary Knight. Shots in this period were 13-11 in favor of the United States.
The third period was where Team USA would come undone. They got into some penalty trouble early on, and this time Canada would not let them get away with it as Meghan Agosta tied the game at 2:21. Just over a minute and a half later, the United States would let in a disheartening, slightly controversial goal that trickled through a sprawled out Jessie Vetter just as the whistle blew. The goal was reviewed to determine whether or not it crossed the line before the sound of the whistle, and it stood as the tie-breaker for Team Canada.
A Canada breakaway late in the period led to another goal by Agosta, extending the lead to 3-1. The Americans were never truly out of it, though, as Stone decided to pull Vetter down by 2 goals with over two minutes left in the third. Anne Schleper was able to cut the deficit in half at 18:55. Canada gave the United States a chance to even things up as they took a penalty for too many (wo)men on the ice with 31 seconds remaining, but it was not meant to be as the final score remained 3-2. The victory for Team Canada marks the first win against the United States under the direction of Kevin Dineen, who joined the bench for Canada late last year.
The final frame proved to be the difference maker in this game in more ways than one. Canada, echoing their performance against Finland, scored all three of their tallies in the third. The United States by contrast lost the shot count by a decisive 12-3 margin. If destiny is to come to fruition and these two teams meet in the finals, Team USA must work on shutting Canada down in the third period, where they are their most dangerous.
Both teams are off until Monday, February 17 when they will each play their Semifinal Playoff game.