It was a tightly contested game through 40 minutes with a controversial goal standing up as the game-winner. Maybe it’s because it’s getting close to the Olympics and maybe because they’d seen each other six times in the last six weeks, but this game did not have the feel of a typical USA-Canada rivalry. It did, however, feature the stellar goaltending that women’s hockey fans have become accustomed to seeing.
Ann-Renee Desbiens sure ate her Wheaties prior to this game. She was incredibly sharp throughout the game and even turned away a few sure goals. The one and only goal she did give up was on the power play and it was an empty net tap-in, a result that was hardly her fault. Even in the final seconds with Canada leading 3-1 and virtually no chance of USA tying the game, Desbiens came up big, stoning Megan Keller and then denying the rebound chance.
Marie Philip-Poulin provided the dagger for her team early in the third period shortly after Canada had finished killing off the remainder of a penalty heldover from the second period. Team USA’s defense got caught running around in their own zone and the unmarked Poulin was more than happy to take the puck from her teammate and snipe it over Alex Rigsby’s shoulder.
Speaking of Team USA’s defense, it wasn’t great, especially in the second period. They spent too much time in their own zone and allowed far too much traffic to acquiesce in front of their netminder. Keller in particular had a rough night, turning pucks over a lot and generally slow behind the play. Canada’s tying goal was probably one Rigsby would like to have back since it went between her legs, but it’s hard to fault her for losing sight of the puck when there were so many bodies in front. The defense in general really struggled to keep some of Canada’s younger, feistier forwards at bay.
On the flip side, Canada’s team defense was pretty excellent all night. They clogged up the neutral zone well and were quick to quash any potential scoring opportunities that might arise from a USA zone entry. In the early part of the game, it seemed like Team USA had a lot of momentum on their side. Certainly they were outworking the Canadians. But, as great goaltending is wont to do, Desbiens kept her team in it long enough for them to find another gear and to figure out how to beat USA.
It seemed that USA had trouble figuring out Canada’s forecheck. Moreover, they had a lot of issues getting pucks to the net at all. The 26 shots on goal they managed is a bit misleading when factoring in blocked shots. They aren’t counted in women’s hockey so it’s hard to say, but Canada must’ve blocked a couple dozen shots in two periods.
The game-winning goal was somewhat controversial. First, it looked like the puck was kicked in but it was deemed a good goal. Then, USA challenged for goalie interference, yet somehow lost that challenge. Rigsby was completely immobilized with a player in a white sweater on top of her enabling another play to score but it seems as though whoever reviewed the play has no idea what goalie interference is. Altogether, it took a little over five minutes to re-examine the play and determine if it counted. When it was finally deemed acceptable, there was only 1:20 left in the period. USA did end up with a power play in the final minute but couldn’t do anything with it.
USA’s big guns didn’t do much. Their top line of Kendall Coyne, Hilary Knight, and Brianna Decker was fairly dangerous as usual, but beyond that, no one was able to get much going. The third period was especially sloppy, as players had trouble handling the puck and even making simple tape-to-tape passes. Alex Carpenter’s line was especially quiet and quite unnoticeable until perhaps the last few minutes of the third period.
Their penalty kill was good, going three-for-three, though Rigsby had to come up with some really big saves a couple of times. But in hockey, timing is everything and Kacey Bellamy took a very ill-timed roughing penalty with under five minutes remaining in the game.
The atmosphere inside the SAP Center was pretty pro-American but Canada’s faithful showed up and cheered their team to victory. There were a lot of young girls in teal jerseys eagerly waving their USA flags as they drank in the show in awe. All in all, it was a great crowd of 6,098 people. The line for USA player autographs postgame was insanely long, especially the side with Hilary Knight (of course).