During the first two acts of Saturday afternoon's drama at Xcel Energy Center, U.S. women's hockey coach Katey Stone liked what she saw as her team built a two-goal lead over Canada. She didn't much care for the big twist in the third act, when her team's archrival rallied to tie the score.
But the encore drew a big thumbs-up, both for the result and for what it meant to her team's preparation for the upcoming Winter Olympics. Hilary Knight's shootout goal gave the Americans a 3-2 victory, the third in a row over Canada during the pre-Olympic schedule. While a crowd announced at 9,012 got plenty of entertainment, Stone also appreciated the lessons her team got from beating back Canada's late charge.
The U.S. took a 2-0 lead as Kelli Stack scored in the first period and Alex Carpenter added a power-play goal with nine seconds left in the second period. Canada dominated the third, holding the Americans without a shot on goal for the first 12 minutes, 42 seconds and getting goals from Meghan Agosta-Marciano and Marie-Philip Poulin in a 74-second span.
Goaltender Jessie Vetter capped a 37-save performance by turning away all three of Canada's shootouot attempts. Knight was the only player to score in the shootout after assisting on her team's first two goals. Stone said her team still has work to do before the Sochi Olympics in February, but she left St. Paul feeling good about what she had seen.
"We let them back in, which was a little disappointing,'' said Stone, whose team ends its pre-Olympic schedule with one more game against Canada on Monday in Toronto. "But at the end of the day, we won a game, and that's great.
"[The shootout] puts our kids on the hot seat, and it puts their kids on the hot seat. It's time to execute and deliver and, at the end of the day, that's what we're going to have to do.''
The final Olympic roster of 21 players will be unveiled Wednesday during the NHL's Winter Classic. To get there, Stone and her staff must cut two skaters from the current roster, which includes eight defensemen, 12 forwards and three goaltenders.
Stone has said she will take the 18 best skaters regardless of position. Saturday, she played 10 forwards and seven defensemen — not including Gophers forward Amanda Kessel, who has not been in uniform for any international games this season because of a lower-body injury. Kessel remained in Boston to continue her rehabilitation and will not play Monday, but Stone said she expects her to be ready soon.
The other four players with Minnesota connections — former Gophers Gigi Marvin, Megan Bozek, Anne Schleper and current Gopher Lee Stecklein — were in the lineup.
In the first two periods, the U.S. showed off the speed that is its biggest asset, consistently beating Canada to loose pucks and limiting quality scoring chances.
Against a close-checking Canadian defense that gave little ground, the persistent American forwards built an early lead. Knight stole the puck from Hayley Wickenheiser behind Canada's net and found Stack at the edge of the crease, where she beat goalie Charline Labonte. Bozek assisted on Carpenter's power-play goal just before the second intermission.
But Canada came roaring back in the third. It outshot the U.S. 15-0 in the first 12:42 and got goals from Agosta-Marciano at 8:36 and Poulin at 9:50. Knight opened the shootout for the Americans and took a shot that hit Labonte's stick and slipped past the goalie.
There were a few shoving matches Saturday, but no fights unlike in two previous meetings since Oct. 12. Stone said as much as her team loves to run and gun, it has learned to play a physical, tough and patient game when the situation calls for it.
Against Canada, that is often the case. Knight described the U.S. team as young, fast, physical and extremely talented, and Saturday's game again demonstrated that its biggest rival usually brings out its best.
"I'd play Canada every day if we could,'' Knight said. "It's a great rivalry. They're a great team, we're a great team, and when the two powers go at it, it's a fun game.''