The U.S. women’s ice hockey team lost their first game of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as Canada scored three unanswered goals in the third period to defeat the Americans, 3-2. Winning for the first time in five games against Team USA, Canada simply outworked the Americans in the final period. The victory proved that Team Canada’s decision to focus on conditioning heading into the Olympics was the right one as they pushed the Americans around and outshot them, 12-3, in the final 20 minutes of play.
HIlary Knight’s third goal of the tournament gave Team USA a 1-0 lead when she tipped in a point shot with 2.26 left in the second period but Team Canada took charge from there. Team USA could not respond to the challenge.
The game turned out to be a tense duel between the two goaltenders, Team USA’s Jesse Vetter and Canada’s Charline Labonté. Both teams had many scoring chances until Knight’s goal gave the U.S. a 1-0 edge. If the Americans cashed in on their opportunities in the second period, they would have won. Labonté, however, rose to the challenge and kept the game tight to set up Canada’s remarkable three-goal flurry in the final period. Simply put, Labonté was magical in the nets, making a sparkling save on Kelli Stack’s shorthanded breakaway in the second period and turning aside 25 shots in all. Vetter made 19 saves heading into the third period but couldn’t stop the Team Canada attack after that.
Canada scored its first goal on a power play, with Brianna Decker whistled for tripping 53 seconds in the third period. Canada capitalized off a rebound and nice passing play, finished off by a Meghan Agosta-Marciano’s goal.Just some 90 seconds later, Canada scored its second goal that ignited a controversy over whether it should have counted at all.
Forward Hayley Wickenheiser streaked down the right side of the ice and lifted what seemed to be a pedestrian wrist shot that somehow found its way past Vetter into the net. As it turned out, Vetter thought that referees Anna Eskola and Ilona Novotna had whistled the play dead. But a video and audio review revealed that the puck slipped into the net before the whistle. It’s a tough call for the referee staff, as they have to decide on the ruling even though they both most likely thought the puck was still under Vetter’s glove. WIckenheiser’s goal was her 55th while wearing the Team Canada sweater, breaking the record for goals in international play held by the American great Cammi Granato.
Agosta-Marciano scored Team Canada’s third goal with just over 5 minutes left, giving the team the cushion it needed to withstand a furious American rally capped by Anne Schleper’s goal with 65 seconds remaining in the game.
After the game, Team USA’s Knight said that she and other teammates heard a whistle on Canada’s controversial second goal. “There was a whistle and that’s why a lot of our girls stopped playing. I mean, in the U.S., we play to the whistle,” said Knight in the formal post-game press conference. “I don’t know if they have audio on the tape but I heard a whistle.”
It is remarkable that the game featured just that one controversy, as the two referees performed admirably in controlling a physical, intense game between two teams that in a previous meeting before the Olympics had engaged in a full-blown brawl.
Clearly there will be discussion on the controversial goal. Still, both teams recognize that this game served as a warm up to the semifinals on Monday. After such a physical and intense round robin game we can only assume and hope that these two will meet in the gold medal game next week.
Not to make any assumptions but with the way the tournament has played out so far it is fair to say these two teams will be meeting with the gold medal on the line in a rematch of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Game won by Canada, 2-0. Obviously it will be a high-intensity game but the rivalry between these two squads amps up the stakes even more.