PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA - A medal wasn’t at stake, but nothing is ever meaningless when Team USA faces archrival Canada in women’s hockey, especially on this grand stage.
Olympic women’s hockey remains a two-team race to Gold, and their renewed acquaintance in the preliminary round Thursday afternoon was a typical U.S.-Canada bout.
Highly competitive, super intense and wildly entertaining to watch as a spectator.
At the end of 60 minutes of non-stop action, Canada extended its Olympic winning streak to 23 games with a thrilling 2-1 victory at the Kwandong Hockey Center.
Team USA made one final charge in the final minute and crashed the net in the final seconds, setting off a mini-scrum at the horn.
This was just the appetizer, too. If all goes according to script, the two teams will meet again next week in the Gold medal game.
The two powerhouses always bring out the best in each other. There is mutual respect but also a burning desire to clobber each other.
The pace was back-and-forth fast. And physical. Body checking is not allowed in women’s hockey, but these teams seem to take delight in pounding on each other. Both teams fought for every inch of the ice.
Canada has won four consecutive Gold medals, with Team USA claiming their only Gold at the 1998 Nagano Games.
The Americans have had the upper hand in recent World Championships but have not been able to stop Canada’s Olympic dominance.
Their last meeting in Olympic competition ended with a gut-punch to the Americans. They blew a two-goal lead in the final 3 minutes, 26 seconds of regulation and then lost in overtime in the Gold medal game at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
After arriving in South Korea, the Americans faced more questions about Canada than their opening game opponent, Finland. U.S. Coach Robb Stauber and his players tried to steer the conversation elsewhere, but their pursuit of Canada looms over the entire tournament.
“We’re not searching for the inner strength anymore,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said. “We spent the last four years preparing ourselves for these Games and the number one thing for our team is we focus on ourselves.”
Canada took control with two goals in a second period filled with scoring chances and pileups at the net. On the first goal, Natalie Spooner feathered a perfect setup to Meghan Agosta in front of U.S. goalie Maddie Rooney.
Sarah Nurse made it 2-0 with a beauty. She brought the puck down the left wing and kept looking to center it. Instead, she fired a wrist shot that grazed Rooney’s right shoulder and somehow found a hole on the short side.
The Americans had a chance to cut the deficit in half late in the period after players from both teams dogpiled in front of Canada’s net on a scoring attempt. Canada’s Haley Irwin was called for covering the puck with her hand in the crease, giving the Team USA a penalty shot.
Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson tried a little dipsy-doodle before going to her backhand but Canada goalie Genevieve Lacasse swatted it away.
If the second period deflated the Americans, the start of the third picked them back up. Kendall Coyne grabbed a loose puck at center ice, turned on her jets and beat Lacasse five-hole 23 seconds into the period to give her team new life.
The Americans had more chances after that but just didn’t finish them.
They also had a prime chance in the first period when Hilary Knight caught Canada in a line change, leaving her alone on a breakaway. But she fired into the body of Lacasse, who gobbled it up.