U.S. gold medal win in Women’s Worlds an instant classic
On April 7, 2017, at the USA Hockey Ice Arena in Plymouth, Mich., Team USA and Team Canada once again faced off for the gold medal in the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship Tournament.
The background of the rivalry is almost as dramatic as the final score: U.S. 3, Canada 2 in overtime.
From the first IIHF Women’s Worlds Tournament in Ottawa in 1990, Canada had enjoyed a 14-year undefeated gold medal romp. The tide began to turn in 2005 in Sweden when the USA won its first IIHF gold medal in a 1-0 shootout over Canada. Since then, Canada has won two golds and the USA seven including three straight until this game.
In 1998 at the first Winter Olympics to include women’s ice hockey, USA won gold, defeating Canada 3-1. Canada then proceeded to take the next four Olympic gold medals home “to where they belong,” according to some Team Canada players. With the 2018 Winter Olympics only nine months away in South Korea, this would be a huge game.
Some saw Team USA at a disadvantage from not practicing together for two weeks due to their showdown with USA Hockey over major financial and promotional support issues.
But the players individually trained harder than ever and communicated daily as a team and with the world. They bonded more tightly than perhaps any other team in sports history, becoming a true America’s Team.
USA Hockey finally settled with them in a mutual victory for all of hockey. They were good to go, with just three days of practice before the first game.
Team Canada was a white-hot mission to reclaim IIHF gold and return the medals home and set the stage for the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. A barn-burner hockey game was in the offing.
Team USA went undefeated through the Tournament, topping Canada 2-0 in the preliminary round before a full house of Canadian and American fans. Then Finland upset Canada 4-3, the first non USA team to do so in the history of the Tournament. Still, Canada then went undefeated and was clearly up for another big game with the USA.
Team USA parents had a pre-game tailgate party going and the consensus was that this would be a one-goal win in a close game, likely in OT. The winner? Cross your fingers for our daughters, but anytime these two teams play, it is a toss-up.
At 1:01 in the first period, Canada showed what it was all about with Meghan Agosta snapping the puck past USA goaltender Nicole Hensley, assisted by Jennifer Wakefield. Undaunted, the USA promptly tied the game at 4:34 with a goal by Kasey Bellamy assisted by Kendall Coyne and Brianna Decker.
The rest of the period went scoreless and just three penalties were called. Shots on goal USA 11, Canada 10.
The second period went scoreless with intense action at both ends of the ice. Again, three penalties; one Canada, two USA. Canada had clearly picked up the pace with 10 shots on goal against six for the USA, but both teams had stellar goaltending with the USA’s Nicole Hensley and Canada’s Shannon Szabados.
In the third, the USA went into turbo mode, blistering Szabodos with 15 shots versus Canada’s six on Hensley. The USA scored at 00:42, Bellamy from Hilary Knight and Decker.
Nine minutes later, on a power play, Canada tied the game again with an unassisted goal by Brianne Jenner.
At times the way Team USA cycled the puck five-on-five on Canada’s ice looked like the Red Wings’ famous Russian Five. Still 2-2 at the buzzer, this game headed for a 20-minute overtime and then a shootout if still tied.
During resurfacing, Team USA strategized about scoring the OT win. First-line center Kendall Coyne told her right wing, Hilary Knight, that, if they got a breakout chance, Coyne should get the puck to her, and then Knight should “Rip it. Just RIP it!”
And so they did. With just over nine minutes left in OT, Knight blocked a blistering shot just inside her blue line and headed up the right side. Coyne picked up the rebounding puck while racing up the center and passed to Knight as they crossed Canada’s blue line.
Knight ripped it, a rifle shot over Szabado’s left shoulder, for the OT win and USA’s fourth straight IIHF gold medal. A huge USA celebration erupted all over the ice and in the stands.
Total shots on net: USA 40, Canada 30. Ten penalties total. Players of the game: USA’s Kacey Bellamy, Canada’s Emily Clark.
As the Star-Spangled Banner was raised, this true grit team of sisters belted out the national anthem with grins on joyful faces to thank America for having their back. Mission accomplished!
Post-game thoughts, comments:
Red Wings Hall of Famer and ambassador of hockey Ted Lindsay sat with me for the full game, the first time he had seen women play above senior rec level, which he has supported and enjoyed since 1987. These are the two best female hockey teams in the world and they earned high praise from one of the NHL greats throughout the game:
“Excellent speed, passing, puck control. Some fine smart body checks with strength, not hitting. Not as fast or strong as men but in the fundamentals of the game they are the same and really exciting to watch. This has been a great evening’s entertainment.”
... Canada goaltender Shannon Szabados: “Since Sochi 2014, the USA has been dominant in puck control.” She noted that Team Canada would be working on that with the 2018 Olympics just ahead.
... Officiating was excellent. With all female officials from all over the world, it was obvious every hockey nation had worked hard for years to develop excellence. It was a wonderful improvement since I last saw them in Lake Placid 1994. Congratulations, ladies and the IIHF nations.
Anna “Banana” Redmon, retired Dearborn Heights teacher and coach of the 1974-era girl’s Pioneer High School ice hockey team: “I want your readers to know that Team Canada was a class act here tonight, that both teams are great and that this was fun!”
... Jean Laxton, MAHA director of Girl’s and Women’s hockey: “Michigan was honored to host the IIHF Women’s Worlds and the USA Hockey National Championships at Tier I, II and Senior Women. We hope this world-class exposure and another USA gold will help boost Michigan’s growth.
“It was a great eight days and an honor to be a part of it.”