CANADIAN WOMEN'S HOCKEY TEAM WIN OLYMPIC GOLD WITH 2-0 WIN OVER U.S.
VANCOUVER – Canada is golden again in women's Olympic hockey.
The Canadian women's hockey team defended the gold medals won at the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Games with a 2-0 win over archrival U.S. on Thursday at Canada Hockey Place.
Marie-Philip Poulin of Beauceville, Que., the youngest player on the Canadian team at 18, scored a pair of goals in the first period, showing off her soft hands and quick release. Edmonton goaltender Shannon Szabados stopped all 29 shots for the shutout.
Szabados was an intriguing choice in net for her first start in an Olympic or world championship final. Coach Melody Davidson went with the 23-year-old over veterans Charline Labonte, the winning goalie in the 2006 Olympic final, and Kim St. Pierre, the starter in the 2002 championship game.
Szabados showed no rookie nerves to start the game, however. She came out of her net to play the puck and made glove saves with confidence. She kept the Americans off the scoreboard during five-on-three chances at the start of both the first and second periods. U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter made 27 saves.
Centre Meghan Agosta of Ruthven, Ont., was named tournament MVP.
“This medal is Canada's medal,” said Agosta. “To be able to win a gold medal on home soil is an honour. We're going to cherish the moment for the rest of our lives.”
Szabados was named to the all-star team, which also included American defencemen Angela Ruggiero and Molly Engstrom and forwards Agosta, Poulin and Jenny Potter of the U.S.
The Canadian men, who meet Slovakia in Friday's semifinal, were on hand to watch the gold medal performance.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was also there, sitting with Wayne Gretzky and his wife Janet. Harper joined the team in the dressing room after the game.
“On behalf of the entire country, all Canadians, you made us proud tonight,” he told them. “You played a great game. Canada's game. Tonight, you're the best in the world. Enjoy this moment for the rest of your life.”
After the win, a few Canadian players skated around the ice waving a Canadian flag with a gold Maple Leaf in the centre while Becky Kellar brought her son Zach on the ice to help celebrate.
Fans cheered every Canadian player as they got their medals, with an especially loud reception for captain Hayley Wickenheiser and Poulin.
“We knew we were the best team. We just had to perform,” said Wickenheiser, who talked of the Canadian squad's long, hard preparation. “I'm too tired to cry right now, but when I see my family I might.”
Defenceman Carla MacLeod of Calgary said the win on home soil was sweeter than four years ago in Turin.
“It feels better don't kid yourself,” she said. “Look at it out there. This is unbelievable to have this many family and friends. We wanted it really bad.”
The three-peat Canadian club includes St. Pierre, Kellar, Wickenheiser, Cherie Piper, Colleen Sostorics, Caroline Ouellette, Jayna Hefford and Jennifer Botterill.
It was a dominant tournament for the Canadian women, who outscored their opposition 48-2 in five games. The Canadians opened with an 18-0 win over Slovakia and never looked back.
Davidson built her team with skilled defencemen who could generate scoring chances from the back end. The Canadian women rushed the puck through the neutral zone and went for the stretch pass a few times in the third period.
Canada respected the speed and skill of the U.S., however, and made sure to get a third man back when the U.S. gained control of the puck.
The Americans had to press for goals in the final minutes of the game, which created odd-man chances for Canada. Canada Hockey Place was on its feet in the final minute, anticipating the country's first hockey gold of these Olympic Games.
The U.S. outshot Canada 14-10 in the second period, but the game remained 2-0 for the home team heading into the third.
The Americans swarmed Canada's net to open a tense second period. Hefford shot the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty and then Kellar immediately did the same to give the U.S. a two-man advantage for a minute and a half. The Canadians blocked shots and Szabados kept seeing the puck well to kill off the penalty.
Poulin had Canada Hockey Place rocking in the first period with a pair of goals.
Thirty-four seconds after Canada killed off their penalty, Botterill skated the puck along the boards and sent it back to Poulin at the faceoff circle. She got a quick shot away over Vetter's shoulder at 13:55.
After winning a faceoff in the offensive zone, the puck deflected back to her and she beat Vetter with a low shot at 16:50.
Canada and the U.S. have met in the final of every world championship. The Canadians have a 9-3 record, but the Americans have won the last two.
And there is little love between the two countries. Kacey Bellamy put an unfriendly glove in Haley Irwin's face after the Canadian crashed the net and went down in the third period.
Agosta punched Monique Lamoureux after a whistle in the second period and got away with it. When U.S. forward Jocelyne Lamoureux skated to the bench without her helmet early in the game, Irwin flattened her.
Szabados also gave Jenny Potter an unfriendly shove when the veteran forward landed on her late in the first period.
|Arena||Canada Hockey Place
||City, Country||Vancouver, B.C., CAN|
|Date||Thu. Feb. 25, 2010
||Time||3:30 p.m. PT|
|Goals & Penalties/ Buts et pénalités|
|First Period/Première période|
|Second Period/Deuxième période|
|Third Period/Troisième période|
|Goaltenders/Gardiens de but|
|Shots on Goal/Tirs au but||1||2||3||Total|
CANADIAN WOMEN TAKE BATTLE HONED GAME INTO OLYMPIC WOMEN'S HOCKEY FINAL
VANCOUVER – The Canadian women's hockey team feels they could not be more prepared for what is setting up to be the best women's hockey game in history.
Canada pushed the envelope as much as they could the last six months, so they would be ready to beat the U.S. for the Olympic women's hockey gold Thursday at Canada Olympic Place.
They played 55 games, including 30 against midget triple-A boys' teams, who provided a level of competition comparable to the American women.
“The game play and playing 50-plus games leading into this has been huge for us,” forward Jayna Hefford of Kingston, Ont., said Wednesday. “That's where we've seen our real development I think.
“It's a huge edge for us. I like our team in a lot of ways. But our preparation, I can't say there's anything I would have wanted to do differently, better or more of.”
Captain Hayley Wickenheiser feels the games in the Alberta Midget Hockey League gives her team the edge against the U.S., who didn't play as many games, nor as many against male competition.
“That's been the key for us,” she said. “It gives us the confidence to know we can play opponents who are bigger, stronger and faster in some cases and play a team game and have success, getting pressure in our own end, being down a goal or up a goal, last-minute situations. We played through all those situations this year.
“We're confident no matter how the game is going, we can stay with it.”
The Canadian women played games against AMHL team before the 2006 Olympics and their record was about .500. They were 20-10 against AMHL competition this time. Games against the Canadian women counted for points in the league standings for the midget teams.
The challenge for both the Canadian and Americans women is finding enough competition to prepare to meet each other because of the gap between them and the rest of the world.
Canada's defence gets little sustained pressure in international tournaments, so their games have been mostly in the offensive end of the ice until they face the U.S. Then, they're suddenly under pressure, rusty at working the puck out of their end and occasionally coughing up the puck with disastrous outcomes.
The midget games gave the Canadian women enough time in front of their own net to work on defence.
“They were tough in that area all year,” Calgary Royals coach Ryan Hilderman said. “You could certainly tell that was a focus. They blocked shots, collapsed to the net and they definitely did what was necessary to keep pucks out of their own net.
“All of our games with them were very close. We had three opportunities to pull our goalies and really throw everything in the kitchen sink at them. They just did an outstanding job to doing whatever it took to keep the puck out of their own net.”
Preparation is one thing, execution is another.
If the Canadians feel confident so do the U.S. because they've beaten Canada in the last two games that really mattered in their sport, which were the 2008 and 2009 world championship finals.
Sweden upset the U.S. in the semifinal of the 2006 Olympics in Turin. But the American team recovered and has flourished since then under head coach Mark Johnson, part of the U.S. gold medal winning 1980 Miracle on Ice team. While the Canadian women have been together since August, American players not in college have been together in Blaine, Minn., for two winters.
And Johnson says playing as many games as Canada did heading into the Olympics could be counterproductive.
“Sometime if you play too many games there's a lot of wear and tear,” he said. “I know the early part of their schedule, they were travelling a lot and that just wears you out.”
The Americans are 3-7 in games played against their archrivals since September, but their last meeting was almost a toss-up. Canada edged the U.S. 3-2 in a shootout in Ottawa on Jan. 1.
Goaltender Jessie Vetter, in net for both world championship wins, feels one game for gold is an equalizer no matter what has gone on before.
“It makes it a little bit more intense, one night, live or die,” she said. “Beat it out of each other and see who comes out on top.”
Expect Vetter in net for the U.S. on Thursday. Canadian head coach Melody Davidson wasn't revealing Wednesday whether she would go with Shannon Szabados or Kim St. Pierre in net, but signs pointed to Szabados.
The 23-year-old played in Monday's 5-0 win over Finland in the semifinal at Canada Hockey Place. St. Pierre's last start was a 13-1 win over Sweden a week ago at Thunderbird Arena.
Davidson feels Leah Wrazidlo of the U.S., is the best referee in women's hockey and had hoped she would be assigned to Thursday's game, even though Canada is playing the U.S. But Aina Hove of Norway will referee the final for a second time after she worked Canada's 4-1 win over Sweden in the 2006 championship game.
International women's hockey has yet to go to a two-referee system like the men. The International Ice Hockey Federation doesn't feel the women's game warrants two referees.
Canada lost eight straight games to the U.S. before beating them 3-2 in the 2002 Olympic final in Salt Lake City.
The two best teams in the world eight years are better in development than they were in 2002 and meeting for Olympic gold in a North American venue could make it the most watched women's game in history.
“It has all the makings to be,” Wickenheiser said. “Certainly the talent is there on both sides. Obviously with the crowd being here in North America and in Canada, everybody is going to be really into it, which is something we haven't had.”
It's the Canadians that have the pressure of trying to win at home this time. This is also the Stanley Cup of women's hockey that comes around only every four years.
“Obviously they're going to feel a little pressure,” U.S. captain Natalie Darwitz said. “They've got to perform in front of their fans, but at the same time it's probably going to bring them a bit of an adrenaline.
“Having that 'Go Canada Go' cheer is going to give them a few extra shots of adrenaline and they can skate and pass a little harder, but at the same time it could do the opposite and make them a little nervous and have a little more pressure and force them to do things earlier than they want to do on the ice.”
As far as turning the tables and beating Canada for gold on home ice, ‘it would be nice,” Darwitz said.
“Our goal is to get a gold medal,” she added. “If we do beat them on home ice, that's the cherry on top of the sundae.”
“We're expecting a gold medal,” Hilderman said. “Maybe they'll bring some back for us.”