It’s all come down to this.
At one end of the ice, Team USA, which many doubted before Worlds even started because of the drama surrounding the team beforehand. It wasn’t clear if USA would even attend the World Championships because of the boycott by the players, but the team was able to negotiate a deal and they haven’t looked out of place at all. If anything, they seem more focused than ever.
On the other end, a Canada team that by all accounts should be taking the tournament by storm, but that’s been struggling throughout the week. After dropping their first game to Team USA to open the tournament, Canada was stunned by Finland in a 4-3 loss. They stomped Russia in their third game and still barely managed to get the bye to the semifinals, but Canada hasn’t looked like themselves this tournament.
So what are the keys to the gold medal game?
Goaltending has been key throughout the tournament for a variety of teams, but tomorrow a solid performance from whoever’s in net will be vital for USA and Canada.
It’s almost certain we’ll see Shannon Szabados in net after a 23-save performance against Germany. Genevieve Lacasse dressed as her backup tonight and it’s likely we’ll see her again tomorrow after a somewhat disappointing tournament from last year’s breakout star, Emerance Maschmeyer.
It’s a little more complicated on the USA side, although it might just be USA head coach Robb Stauber being candid. Rigsby is still the favorite to start, but Stauber wouldn’t confirm whether Nicole Hensley, who was the goalie in net in the first game against Canada, would get the nod or not.
Hensley has yet to allow a goal this tournament, complicating the decision for the US.
In Canada’s first game against the United States, they got off to a slow start and came to play too late, something Marie-Philip Poulin admitted in the postgame.
"I don't think we were as ready as we should have been," said Poulin. "They got up to their pace right away. We were better in the third but you can't win a game with 20 minutes of good play."
Canada had their head in the game the entire 60 minutes against Finland in the semifinals as did the US against Germany, not letting up even after they scored into the double-digits. Undoubtedly, it will be a different atmosphere facing off in the gold medal game, but the team that comes out jumping will have the edge.
If either team is frustrated, they can end up beating themselves. USA has certainly had that happen in the past, though they’ve been brilliant at keeping their composure this tournament. For Canada, it’s going to be about staying resilient, something head coach Laura Schuler mentioned in a pregame interview.
“I think the keys to success for us are that we have to play smart and that we have to play fast and we have to play with resiliency,” said Schuler.
Canada looked at bit lost in the early stages of the tournament, but after some line juggling and a team meeting, have looked much better after their 4-3 loss to Finland.
“I think it’s good that it happened when it did. It was a great learning opportunity and I think adversity for the group of people that we have here, instead of it being something like set us back, I think it sort of propelled us forward,” said Meaghan Mikkelson. “We had a discussion as a team as to what wasn’t working or what were we missing there and I think that it was important for us as players to come together just the players and talk about what we needed to change and what we needed to do
Their resiliency and nerves will be put to the test against the United States, who are looking to sweep Worlds since the 2014 Olympics. Keeping their composure hasn’t been an issue all tournament for the Americans, and that will likely carry over into the gold medal contest.
You can find out how to watch the gold medal game here.