After all these years, the women’s hockey rivalry between the United States and Canada remains as salty and scintillating as ever. Any loss to their nemesis in red — including Sunday’s 2-1 overtime defeat at Xcel Energy Center — leaves the Americans smarting until their next chance to gain the upper hand.
That said, coach Robb Stauber and his players were mindful that the current series of games between the women’s hockey heavyweights is merely a tuneup for the main event. With about two months to go until the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Sunday’s loss gave the U.S. another chance to gauge its progress and evaluate its personnel before announcing its final 23-player Olympic roster on Jan. 1.
The Americans controlled the first half of the game and took a 1-0 lead on Megan Keller’s power-play goal at 1 minute, 20 seconds of the second period. Canada dug in over the final 30 minutes, getting the tying goal from Marie-Philip Poulin at 17:52 of the second and the winner on Brianne Jenner’s snipe from the right circle 37 seconds into overtime.
That dismayed a flag-waving crowd announced at 9,098. It rankled Stauber and his players, too, though they did their best to keep their eye on the long game.
“It just adds fuel to the fire,’’ said Warroad native Gigi Marvin, a two-time Olympian. “We’re super disappointed that we lost. We want to win every time we have the USA sweater on, especially against Canada and in your home rink with your friends and family in the stands.
“But there are great things we can take from this. We know this isn’t the end point. We’re kind of in a marathon here. We’re going to get better, and we’re going to bring it to Winnipeg.”
They have to wait only two days before that Tuesday rematch at Bell MTS Place. The U.S. hadn’t felt the sting of a loss to Canada since it fell 5-1 on Oct. 25 in Boston, and Sunday’s defeat was only its second in the past seven games between the two.
Stauber was mostly pleased with what he saw, despite the outcome. Over the final three games of the pre-Olympic tour against Canada, which ends Dec. 17, he must make final roster decisions and fine-tune a team that has trained full-time since September.
USA Hockey named only 23 players, matching the size of the Olympic roster, to the national team roster it announced in May. Stauber said he and general manager Regan Carey hoped that group would remain unchanged through the Olympics, but they left themselves flexibility to make changes. Over the past month, they added three players, including defenseman Sidney Morin, a Minnetonka native who played at Minnesota Duluth.
“We talked to all the players (in May) and said, ‘This is the national team, not the Olympic team,’ ’’Stauber said. “We preferred to have it the way we did. But we’re only 2½ months away from the Olympics, and we feel we need to tinker with some things. Now’s the time.”
Morin, defenseman Cayla Barnes and forward Haley Skarupa all were in the lineup Sunday as Stauber played 12 forwards and eight defensemen. The U.S. had put up big numbers against Canada earlier this fall, outscoring it 14-5 in three victories. Sunday, Canada limited the Americans’ most potent asset — their speed — as it clogged the neutral zone and outshot the U.S. 12-5 in the third period.
Goaltender Maddie Rooney of Andover stopped 26 shots while taking her first loss this season. Canada’s goalie, Shannon Szabados, also was outstanding and made 27 saves.
Stauber wants to see his team play faster, reduce turnovers and get more pucks to the net in Tuesday’s rematch. He lauded his players’ ability to maintain their emotional equilibrium in a series that is often testy, something they all must continue to do with final roster cuts just a month away.
“I guarantee the players feel it,’’ Stauber said. “They know they’re under the gun, and they have to perform.
“Our team will continue to get better. We like our direction.”