A goal and assist from Hayley Wickenheiser in the third gave Canada a 3-2 win over the U.S. and earn home-team status for Canada in a possible gold-medal game.
Meghan Agosta, celebrating her 27th birthday, had two goals for the winners as Canada stretched its Olympics winning streak to 18 games.
Canada is also now 9-4 in one-goal games against the U.S. in top-level IIHF competition.
Both teams have already qualified directly into the semi-finals and will have to wait four days before playing again against opponents TBD.
Wickenheiser is the all-time points leader in games between Canada and the U.S. (Olympics and World Championships combined), with 18 in 23 games. The 23 games is also a record (tied with Jayna Hefford). Wickenheiser is also the career leader with 11 assists and tied for top spot with 7 goals (with Nancy Drolet and Hefford).
“There’s always a lot of pride on the line when we play the U.S.,” Wickenheiser said. “Nobody wants to give an edge to the other. It feels like a big game every time we play because we’re the two best teams in the sport.”
The win gives Canada a 3-0 record to the Americans’ 2-1 record, giving Canada the superior record in the preliminary round and the right to be home team–with last change–if it makes it to the gold-medal game.
Both goalies were excellent and made several goal-saving stops to keep the score close throughout.
The strategy and game playing that went on in the first period alone was riveting, even though it didn’t see one puck cross the goal line. Canada’s coach Kevin Dineen, with last change as home team, matched the Marie-Philip Poulin-Jayna Hefford-Rebecca Johnston line most shifts against the top American line of Amanda Kessel-Kendall Coyne-Briane Decker.
The result was an ineffective U.S. trio for the most part. As well, Dineen had his players use the full sheet of ice. Guess what? Maybe Canada is just as fast as the Americans? Canada passed east-west and north-south through the middle with incredible effectiveness, the wingers blowing to the outside around the American defencemen and a torpedo-kind of long passing up the middle catching their opponents off guard.
In the end, both goalies were solid and the defence almost letter perfect. Slight advantage Canada, but this was only the first of six expected periods between the two teams in the next week and as such the least important.
If the first period was establishing a strategy, the second was about a glorious up-and-down exchange of chances. Both goalies were sensational, Labonté stoning Brianna Decker on a breakaway and Vetter matching with a great pad save off Gillian Apps.
Labonté came back with another breakaway save off Lyndsey Fry, who was the beneficiary of a Laura Fortino giveaway at the U.S. blue line on a power play.
And then on a power play of their own, the Americans struck. Anne Schleper’s quick shot from the slot was re-directed by Hilary Knight in front, and just like that the U.S., which had been neutralized much of the game, had the crucial 1-0 lead.
Canada came out with purpose to start the third and tied the game early on its own power play. Wickenheiser got a loose puck by the left faceoff dot and found Meghan Agosta to the back side for the easy tap in at 2:21.
“We knew we just needed one goal, and we could get that on any shift from any line,” Wickenheiser noted. “We just had to stay with it, and nobody was panicking.”
Less than two minutes later, Wickenheiser put Canada ahead when her shot from in close squeezed throug the pads of Vetter and over the goal line. It appeared the whistle might have sounded before the puck crossed the line, but referee Anna Eskola consulted with the video-goal judge who confirmed the score.
“There was a whistle on the ice, definitely,” said Hilary Knight. “We play to the whistle. That’s why a lot of the U.S. players stopped. Unfortunately, I don’t know if they have audio on the review, but that was not the right way for us to go out…I was right there on the ice. I heard it. But I guess you’ve got to play through the whistle, right?”
Agosta made it a 3-1 game when she collected a loose puck at her blue line and had a clear break, beating Vetter between the pads at 14:55.
It wasn’t until near the end of the period the Americans regsitered their first shot, finishing with only three in the final 20 minutes.
With Vetter on the bench, Schleper’s long shot fooled Labonté. It trickled off the goalie’s glove and in at 18:55 to make it 3-2, but the U.S. couldn’t get near the Canadian goal in the final minute.
In the end, the Decker line had only seven of the U.S.’s 27 shots and were well neautralized by Canada’s checking, but the real test will be a gold-medal showdown–if both teams make it that far.
The appetizer was delicious. Now fans are hoping the main course is just as delectable.
IHLC: With the victory, Canada wrenches the International Hockey Lineal Championship from the U.S., to capture their 30th IHLC title, the most in women’s IHLC history. The win over the U.S., Canada’s 119th IHLC game against Team USA, acts as a measure of revenge for four consecutive losses Team Canada suffered at the hands of the U.S. in a pre-Olympic exhibition series in December, ending with a 3-2 loss in Toronto on December 30. The Americans, who entered the Olympics as IHLC champions, defeated Finland and Switzerland before losing the title to Canada. Canada next faces the winner of Switzerland-Russia in the Quarterfinals, with a trip to the Gold Medal Game (and the IHLC) on the line.
04:37 – PEN – J. Lamoureux, tripping
10:59 – PEN – Ouellette, holding
17:47 – PEN – Decker, body checking
32:27 – PEN – Duggan, interference
32:52 – PEN – Johnston, roughing
36:57 – PEN – Rougeau, body checking
37:34 – PP GOAL – Knight (Carpenter, Schleper)
40:53 – PEN – Decker, tripping
42:21 – PP GOAL – Agosta (Wickenheiser)
43:54 – GOAL – Wickenheiser (Spooner, Agosta)
51:59 – PEN – Pucci, hooking
54:55 – GOAL – Agosta
58:55 – EA GOAL – Schleper (Decker, J. Lamoureux)
59:29 – PEN – team, too many players
W: Labonté (25-27)
L: Vetter (28-31)
SHOTS ON GOAL
8+11+12 = 31
11+13+3 = 27
Goaltenders: Charline Labonté, Shannon Szabados. Defence: Laura Fortino, Jocelyne Larocque, Meaghan Mikkelson, Lauriane Rougeau, Catherine Ward, Tara Watchorn. Forwards: Meghan Agosta, Gillian Apps, Mélodie Daoust, Jayna Hefford (A), Brianne Jenner, Rebecca Johnston, Caroline Ouellette (C), Marie-Philip Poulin, Natalie Spooner, Jennifer Wakefield, Hayley Wickenheiser (A).
Goaltenders: Brianne McLaughlin, Jessie Vetter. Defence: Kacey Bellamy, Megan Bozek, Gigi Marvin, Michelle Picard, Josephine Pucci, Anne Schleper, Lee Stecklein. Forwards: Alexandra Carpenter, Julie Chu, Kendall Coyne, Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan (C), Lyndsey Fry, Amanda Kessel, Hilary Knight, Jocelyne Lamoureux, Monique Lamoureux, Kelli Stack.