Canada didn’t just reclaim Olympic gold in Beijing. They did it in such convincing fashion that some are arguing this is the best Canadian women’s national team to ever compete. They went a perfect 7-0 against their competition, blowing out most of their opponents and beating Team USA twice, including in the rematch for gold. This was certainly one of the most well-constructed and well-prepared teams we’ve seen from Hockey Canada in the last decade, and it paid off in their fifth Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey.
Here’s a recap of the 2022 tournament for our Olympic champions.
How Canada finished
Right in first place, with gold medals dangling from their necks.
What went right
Almost everything. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of what went well for Canada in this tournament and, really, what they did well to prepare this cycle and bring home gold:
- Their power play was clicking: Canada had the best power play all tournament, clicking at a 41.67% rate. They were lethal with the player advantage, thanks to their offensive depth and their active D options. They didn’t score on the power play in the final, but their PP was crucial to gaining momentum back from Team USA in the round robin and getting on the board first in the opening period.
- Ann-Renée Desbiens was outstanding in net: Desbiens had been to the Olympics in 2018 but this was her first Olympics as the team’s designated starter. She handled the role with grace and dominance, carrying a .940 save percentage and 1.80 save percentage through five games. In two games against Team USA, she saved 89 of 93 shots on goal.
- Their offense was balanced but deadly: Canada had plenty of offensive depth on their roster, and they made good use of it throughout the tournament. Their top two lines were unmatched, regularly producing goals in every game. The strength of their bottom-six, comparatively, was clearly what helped them pull away in their routs against ROC, Finland, Switzerland, and Sweden.
- Personnel decisions paid off: Of these, two big ones stick out to me. The first is, of course, the decision this cycle to bring Jamie Lee Rattray more seriously back into the fold and keep her on as a versatile forward. That move ended up paying dividends when Mélodie Daoust went down with an injury in the first game, and Rattray slotted up to her place on the second line for most of the tournament. The second was the decision to keep Sarah Nurse on the top line. She replaced Emily Clark there during the round-robin game against ROC, and Canada’s staff deservedly kept her there with Marie-Philip Poulin and Brianne Jenner.
- The switch to a younger, more up-tempo defensive corps did, too: Plenty was said about this before the tournament, but out of seven defenders on the roster, five were rookies. That didn’t happen by accident; it was the result of an intentional shift to a more active, up-tempo style on defense. The development of players like Claire Thompson and Erin Ambrose certainly forced their hand a bit, but I also think Hockey Canada had to make a conscious shift away from a more conservative approach on the back end (and, of course, not cut good young defenders in favor of taking extra fourth liners to the Olympics. That helped, too.).
What went wrong
The simple answer here is that nothing actually went wrong. Canada didn’t lose any games, and they’re returning home as Olympic champions. Still, there are always some areas that can be improved.
- Canada was the most penalized team in Beijing: They took 35 minor penalties throughout the tournament, for an average of 10:00 of penalty time per game. The good news is, they had an excellent penalty kill, posting an 85.29% penalty kill rate. But that’s usually an area where Team USA especially can create some havoc. While they scored a power-play goal against Canada in both games, they weren’t able to do enough damage; in the gold medal game, USA’s PP goal didn’t come until the final 13 seconds.
- Some defensive decisions could have burned: Ella Shelton started the year off with a ton of promise, and I thought she had strong showings in the Rivalry Series games I caught. But she didn’t see the ice in the gold medal game, despite being a well-rounded defender at both ends. I would’ve liked to see more of her throughout the tournament, and if Team USA had pressured more with all four lines, rather than just two, that could have potentially exposed Canada’s D a bit more, particularly Shelton’s absence.
Top 3 players
- Sarah Nurse, Forward: It would be hard to overstate the tournament that Nurse just had for Canada. She’s leaving Beijing as the new record holder for points in a single Olympics with 18, a record previously held by Canadian legend Hayley Wickenheiser. She broke the record thanks to scoring a goal and an assist in the gold medal game; to me, the record is made all the more impressive by the fact that she didn’t even start the tournament on the first line. But she scored enough points as a depth player and then obviously slotted in well enough next to Poulin and Jenner to make that line dangerous every single shift. Nurse is the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in ice hockey.
- Claire Thompson, Defender: Thompson is also now a record holder for Team Canada; she owns Canada’s record for points by a defender in a single Olympics with 13. She’s part of that young wave of defenders who helped Canada carve out a new identity on the back end, and she flourished alongside Erin Ambrose on the back end. Some of Thompson’s biggest strengths are her poise on the breakout in both directions; her ability to pass the puck off and make offensive plays; and her shot from the point and ability to get pucks through. That last one was crucial in the gold medal game especially; her initial shot, which Nurse deflected, gave Canada a 1-0 lead.
- Marie-Philip Poulin, Forward: What else is there to say about Poulin? When the lights are brightest and the moment counts the most, she gets it done, plain and simple. She was outstanding as usual all tournament long for Team Canada, and came up huge once again in the gold medal game. She has now scored two goals in a gold medal game on three separate occasions. She has scored the golden goal in the Olympics three times. And she is the first player in Olympic hockey history to score in four gold medal games.