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2022 Olympics Gold Medal Preview: USA v Canada

The Rematch

CHINA-BEIJING-OLYMPIC WINTER GAMES-ICE HOCKEY-WOMEN’S PRELIMINARY-CANADA VS U.S. (CN) Photo by Song Yanhua/Xinhua via Getty Images

It’s a tale as old as time: a gold medal game between the United States and Canada.

If you haven’t been tuning into the Olympics so far, where we’ve seen a million highlights from 2018, and need a quick reminder: these two teams met in the 2018 Gold Medal Game, which went from overtime into a shootout. The US won, giving them their first Olympic gold medal since 1998.

This year, at the very least, the game won’t go to a shootout due to a change in IIHF rules that say medal games will play 3-on-3 sudden death overtime. If history is any indication, we may be in for a long night.

How To Watch:

Wednesday, Feb. 16 at 11:10 p.m. EST

US: NBC, NBCOlympics.com
Canada: Sportsnet, CBC Online

DraftKings has currently has Canada as the favorites with -210 odds.

How they got here:

Preliminary Round

The group play matchup between these two always feels like the game before The Game. And this time it was mighty interesting. Canada won, 4-2, but US was arguably the better team. It was the best the US had looked, despite having cruised up until then, and it was the worst Canada had looked, despite also having cruised into the game.

Quarterfinal Round

The US came in second in group play, lining them up against Czechia in the quarterfinals. Despite not allowing a shot in the first period but also not scoring themselves, it felt like Czechia held the game in their hands because it’s easy for a goaltender who sees no action to let in an easy goal. It was instead a defensive breakdown that led to Czechia scoring first. That seemed to snap the US into action, though, as Hilary Knight scored 48 seconds later and the rest was history.

Canada had a bit of an easier time as their first-place finish meant a date with Sweden in the quarterfinals. They steamrolled through, scoring 11 and giving up zero.

Semifinal Round

The United State’s semifinal game was won on the back of goaltender Alex Cavallini having herself the game of her life. She nearly had a shutout until the very end of the game.

Canada’s semifinal was about the same as their quarterfinals as they handedly beat Switzerland. They got off to a slow start before ripping off five quickly goals to end up winning 10-3.

Keys to the Game

US

  • No slow starts - In their quarterfinal and semifinal matchups, the US came out with pretty slow starts, especially on the score sheet. Going back to their preliminary round game against Canada, they didn’t score a single first-period goal in the last three games. Contrast that to the eight first period goals they scored in the first three games, where they looked like a markedly better team. Meanwhile, Canada has scored 10 first-period goals in their last three games. Either the US needs to contain Canada’s early hot starts or they need to get off to one of their own.
  • Don’t take penalties - Canada has scored a whopping 10 goals on their 22 power plays. For those like me that aren’t great at math, the IIHF site tells us that’s 45 percent. That’s huge. The US allowed three goals on their 13 penalty kills, which the IIHF again helpfully tells us is a 76.92 penalty kill percentage. They were the second-least penalized team in the tournament, but had the third-worst penalty kill percentage. Going to the box against Canada here could be a difference-maker.

Canada

  • Don’t take penalties - Canada is somehow the most penalized team in the tournament with 31 calls against them. They only let in four goals on the kill for a second-best 87.10 penalty kill percentage, and they’re playing the US, who has a 23.08 power play percentage (not great), but still. Special teams are going to be important in such a closely contested game.
  • Solve the US’s strong forecheck - Another key to this game for Canada will be how they handle Team USA’s aggressive and effective forecheck. The decisions the defenders make in Canada’s zone will dictate how much possession time USA has and will be the key to Canada establishing its attack. Fortunately for Canada, they have some outstanding puck-moving D like Erin Ambrose and Claire Thompson.

Players to Watch

US

  • Hilary Knight - Putting a player like Knight as a player to watch is a no-brainer. She may only wear the A, but when the team needs her, she puts them on her back. In the quarterfinal game against Czechia, Knight scored the game-tying goal that swung the momentum from possible upset to definite win. She’s leading the team in goals and points and you can bet that if this - her fourth Olympics - is going to be her last, she wants to go out on top again.
  • Alex Cavallini/Maddie Rooney - In the preliminary rounds, the US goaltenders rotated with each getting a shot in net. Rooney played a second game - the coveted group play against Canada - before Cavallini took over for the two knockout games leading into the gold medal game. Cavallini has the hot hand, especially she made the save of game for the US in their semifinal game against Finland. But Rooney’s been here before as she was the goaltender in net for the 2018 game. All of that is to say: who knows who is going to start between these two. Does head coach Joel Johnson go with the older player with the hot hand or the younger player who has been here before? Who knows...
  • Savannah Harmon - Harmon, a relative newcomer to the US senior National Team, is quietly having herself a “rookie” Olympics Games. The defender who played at Clarkson University (NCAA), the Buffalo Beauts (NWHL/PHF), and the PWHPA is tied for first among all US skaters in assist and tied for second among all defenders in the tournament with 5. Her seven points also puts her at third among all defenders. She’s logging huge amounts of minutes, so clearly, coach Joel Johnson is happy with her solid play.

Canada

  • Sarah Fillier - Everyone’s talking about her, so I might as well join in. Holy cow Sarah Fillier. College hockey fans know she didn’t just appear on the scene as she’s been a standout at Princeton, but she might as well have burst into international attention. She’s got 8 goals in her first 6 Olympics games. Not just 6 games this tournament, her first 6 ever. And that’s on a team that so deep that every player but one - the mostly injured Melodie Daoust - has at least one point.
  • Sarah Nurse - Nurse is quietly having herself an incredible Olympics. After recording exactly 0 assists in 2018, she has a whopping 12 assists going into the gold medal game. Combined with her four goals, that gives her the lead in points in the tournament with 16 (though four of her teammates are hot on her tail for the lead).
  • Jamie Lee Rattray - Rattray is frequently listed in the lines as the extra forward, floating all alone without buddies on the graphic. Yet she’s currently tied for third in most goals scored in the tournament with five, and she’s third on Canada outright. CWHL and PWHPA fans have long known Rattray is the real deal, and her first time in the Olympics is just proving that to the whole world.

Predictions

Is this a hot take? I think it’s Canada’s game to lose. Despite being outplayed in the preliminary game, they’re rolling into this game having scored nearly double the amount of goals as the US. They’re loose, have production coming from all over the ice, and have a strong goaltender. They haven’t lost a game yet this tournament and I don’t expect them to do so now. Canada wins in overtime, because it has to go to overtime.