Americans defend women’s title


HAMEENLINNA, Finland — Melody Davidson entertained the possibility she won’t coach the Canadian women’s hockey team at the 2010 Olympics after a 4-1 loss to the U.S. in Sunday’s world championship final.

The Oyen, Alta., native was devastated by Canada’s performance because her team had performed so well heading into the final. Canada beat the U.S. 2-1 in Friday’s playoff game, but were outplayed Sunday.

"Coaching is coaching and if you don’t perform you don’t go on," Davidson said. "If we’re not going to perform in the final game, that’s on my shoulders and we have to be able to perform. If we can’t maybe Hockey Canada has to look at a change.

"There’s no excuses for that performance out there today."

Davidson coached Canada to Olympic gold in 2006 and to a world championship gold medal in 2007. She was general manager of the program last year and Peter Smith the head coach when Canada lost to the U.S. in Harbin, China.

Davidson is under contract to coach the Canadian women at the Olympics in Vancouver next February.

The Americans won back-to-back titles for the first time and their third in the 12-year history of the tournament.

"Any time you win a world championship is pretty great and to have that feeling two years in a row, there’s nothing like it," U.S. captain Natalie Darwitz said.

"It’s going to be a lot different next year. The stakes are going to be higher."

The Americans are 4-2 versus their archrival in their last six games and are 3-0 in finals of their last three international tournaments.

Defenceman Caitlin Cahow scored a pair of goals and Meghan Duggan also scored for the U.S. Hilary Knight added an empty-net goal.

Winnipeg’s Jennifer Botterill replied for Canada in front of 3,046 at Patria Arena.

Charline Labonte of Boisbriand, Que., made her first start in a world championship final and stopped 26 shots, while U.S. counterpart Jessie Vetter made 39 saves.

Canadian defenceman Carla MacLeod was named the tournament MVP with two goals and six assists in five games.

The U.S. had lost to Canada Friday on little rest as they’d beaten Finland the previous night. The Americans shifted into a higher gear after a day’s recovery Saturday and the Canadians were unprepared for the change of pace in the first period.

"I felt we were ready and I’m not sure why we didn’t perform," Davidson said. "We tried hard, but we didn’t necessarily work hard enough. We didn’t work through the scrums. We didn’t work through the battles."

The U.S. spent much of Friday’s game shorthanded, but did not serve a minor penalty the whole game Sunday. The Canadians served only two minors, but the U.S. scored on the second when Sarah Vallaincourt was serving a slashing minor.

Cahow beat Labonte five-hole from the slot at 7:09 of the third on a feed from Dartwitz for her second of the game.

After falling behind 1-0 after the first period, Canada wrested some momentum back with Botterill’s goal at 5:11 in the second period. But Duggan put the U.S. up a goal again at 10:10.

Duggan, who was robbed in the first period of Friday’s game by Labonte, battled with Canadian defenceman Colleen Sostorics but got a wrist shot over Labonte’s glove to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead.

Botterill beat Vetter low stick side on a feed from Caroline Ouellette, with Jayna Hefford providing the screen.

The U.S. scored on their first shift of the game. Jenny Potter found Cahow on the edge of Canada’s crease and the defenceman backhanded the puck over Labonte’s pad 24 seconds after the opening face-off.

"We knew we had to do something special on the first shift," Cahow said. "I don’t know how Jen made that pass through skates and sticks, but it was an easy touch-in for me."

The Americans’ speed took time and space away from Canada in all three zones of the ice. A Canadian puck carrier on the offensive boards often had two Americans collapsing onto her.

U.S. pressure forced Canada into low percentage passes and the Canadians turned the puck over in their own end and the neutral zone.

Host Finland won the bronze medal for the ninth time in the tournament’s history with a 4-1 win over Sweden in front of 3,027 spectators.

The sparse women’s international hockey calendar traditionally consists of the world championships, the annual Four Nations Cup involving the top four countries and a European Cup.

But the women’s hockey train will pick up steam heading into the Olympics as teams prepare for their sport’s showcase event.

Canada and the U.S. have scheduled six exhibition games against each other next winter. In addition to the Four Nations Cup in Finland, an Olympic test event will be held in Vancouver starting Aug. 31. The Hockey Canada Cup will feature Canada, the U.S., Sweden and Finland.

While Finland and Sweden posted upsets over the U.S. and Canada respectively in 2008, the top two countries re-established the gap between themselves and the Scandinavians at these world championships.

Finland didn’t score a goal against either team and was outscored a combined 15-0. Canada blanked the Swedes 7-0 in the preliminary round. Switzerland and Russia, who have finished top four in the past, continue to sit in the bottom half of the field.

So Canada and the U.S. remain well in front in the race for Olympic gold in Vancouver next February. A world championship isn’t held in an Olympic year.

The 2011 tournament, in a location to be announced, will be reduced to an eight-team tournament instead of the nine-team format here. Total attendance at this year’s championship was 28,614 for an average of 1,430 in an arena that seats 5,000.