After losing to Team Canada 2-1 in the preliminary round, Team USA rallied to defeat the 2015 World Champions in a close 3-2 contest on Friday. Rebecca “Becky” Dobson netted the game-winning goal with 34 seconds left in the third period. Kelly Foley and Taylor Steadman both put away equalizers to keep Team USA in the game.
With the win over Canada, Team USA reaches their first-ever gold medal match in program history.
Dobson told Martin Voltr of the Pardubice2017.com post-game, “We don’t want just any medal. We want the gold medal.” Team USA has never finished better than fourth, but general manager Jason Kelly feels this is the year, and this is the team to reach the top of the podium.
In an interview with The Ice Garden back in January, Kelly made his intentions for the World Championships clear, “I expect nothing less than gold. The team we put together is tremendous.” Some of this confidence stems from a strong performance last year. Again, Team USA entered the bronze medal match, and again they came up short.
“A bad call, in my opinion, and a bad line change is really what cost us [a] medal. I really think that last time around in Switzerland, the US women’s team really put the world on notice that we weren’t the best of the rest anymore; that we were an absolute contender,” said Kelly.
Losing in such a heartbreaking fashion steeled Kelly and his team. Returners like Cherie Stewart remember Switzerland, and went into this tournament ready to compete. “The last team, we had a chance and we lost to Canada like 3-2, it was a very close game. It was a little controversial at the end,” recalled Stewart while visiting her former team - the New York Riveters - as they battled the Buffalo Beauts in February.
As a veteran, Stewart was very pleased with the development of the team, especially the ability of the women to build trust and comradery quickly. “This team is the best ball hockey team I’ve ever been on ... we’re here to prove that [we belong] in the top three.”
Kelly has steadily increased the competition level of his team by embracing an “all-hockey” mentality. “Alessandra Glista, our goaltender who’s been with the team since 2005, [she] and I were in the same mindset as far as what we wanted to see. And we really started going after all hockey players, not just ball hockey players.” The current team is represented by 16 Division I college athletes who competed in ice hockey, field hockey and other sports. “The athletes that we have sought since I got involved ... are now coming to fruition.”
Newcomers like Buffalo Beauts defender Paige Harrington see the team diversity as an asset, not a liability. Harrington nabbed a roster spot after only one ball hockey tournament to replace retired assistant captain Roxanne Gaudiel. “With the field hockey girls, they see the area differently and have very good stick skills. They stay low on the ball and make tight turns,” Harrington told The Ice Garden last month. She added, “[Ice] hockey girls see the ice well, and know where the open [space] is ... I think [the different experiences] make the team well rounded.”
The final push
The field is set. The United States will play the Czech Republic on Saturday for the gold medal. Regardless the individual road to Pardubice, Team USA players are united and ready to claim gold. Come Saturday, hockey is hockey.
“It doesn’t matter now who we play,” said Dobson about the gold medal match. “We’re just gonna play [the] Team USA game and leave it all out on the floor no matter who we’re against.”
The host nation defeated Slovakia 2-0 to finalize the gold and bronze medal matches. The United Kingdom and Italy will open the final day of competition at 8:00am local time (2:00am EST). Canada and Slovakia will battle for bronze at 2:30am ET.
You can catch the live stream of the gold medal game at 5:30am EST at the Pardubice 2017 website.