PLYMOUTH, Mich. — An empowered U.S. women’s hockey team backed up their off-ice win before the world championship began by winning gold Friday.
Hilary Knight blocked a shot in Canada’s end and scored on an odd-man rush at 10:17 of overtime to lift the host country to a 3-2 victory and a fourth straight world championship.
The U.S. women threatened to boycott the tournament if USA Hockey didn’t increase their support, financial and otherwise, to something closer to what the men get.
Over 100 women inside and outside the national team pool joined the movement and refused USA Hockey’s invitation to be replacement players.
Winning gold was the book end to winning the showdown with their own federation.
"The negotiation process took a toll and our camp was shorter, but we knew it was going to be a bond that was unbreakable," said Knight.
"I think years down the line we’re going to realize how we made history."
Canada and the U.S. have clashed for gold in all 18 women’s world championships dating back to Ottawa in 1990.
The U.S. has won seven of the last eight gold medals, while Canada hasn’t finished first since 2012.
"It hurts. There’s no doubt about that," Canadian head coach Laura Schuler said. "You never want to hear another person’s anthem."
The American women have also run the table of titles this Olympic quadrennial since falling 3-2 in overtime to Canada in the gold-medal game of the 2014 Olympics.
Kacey Bellamy scored twice for the Americans and goaltender Nicole Hensley made 28 saves in front of a standing-room crowd at the 3,500-seat USA Hockey Arena.
Meghan Agosta and Brianne Jenner replied for Canada.
Shannon Szabados was stellar in the visitors’ net with 37 saves in her first international women’s hockey final since the 2014 Olympics.
The U.S. outshot Canada 15-6 in the third period. A series of Szabados saves during an American power play late in regulation sent the final to overtime for the fourth time in the last six world championships.
"The biggest thing to take out of this is to get more shots on net and more quality shots," said Agosta.
"It’s really tough but we need to bounce back and focus on the things we’re not so good at it so that next time we’re in this situation we’re ready to do whatever it takes."
After a scoreless second period, Jenner scored a power-play goal to tie it 2-2 at 9:44 of the third. The goal was initially waived off, but awarded after video review.
Bellamy put the U.S. up 2-1 just 42 seconds into the third off Knight’s between-the-legs, backhand pass. Bellamy scored her first on a slapshot from the blue line through traffic at 4:34 of the first period.
Jennifer Wakefield gathered up a U.S. centring pass in front of Szabados and skated the puck back on an odd-man rush with Agosta, who beat Hensley stick side 61 seconds after the opening faceoff.
So why has Canada won four straight Olympic gold medals, but can’t beat the U.S. for world championship gold?
When it comes to the Olympics, the Canadians have the advantage in preparation as they play about 30 games against midget triple-A boys during their six months of preparation.
They’re more battled-hardened and their execution of systems is superior.
But when both teams have just a few days of training camp prior to the world championship, the U.S. women’s individual talent and speed take over.
Those edges are slight, however. Five of the last six world championship finals have been decided by one goal.
Finland won bronze Friday with an 8-0 win over Germany. Finland beat Canada for the first time ever in the preliminary round and made the U.S. work for a 5-3 win.
The question is whether the Finns can maintain their gains on the North Americans next winter when Canada and the U.S. take big strides forward as full-time teams in preparation for the 2018 Winter Games.
"Those financial resources, we don’t have," head coach Pasi Mustonen said.
"We have to find a medicine for that. Our medicine probably will be that those aspiring for a spot on the roster have to practise with boys during the season. Now it’s time for the Finnish male hockey to show they really want to support us … offer a spot for every member of the women’s team to practise with boys’ teams."
Women’s world championships are not held in Olympic years. Increasing from eight to 10 countries in 2019 will be put to a vote at the International Ice Hockey Federation congress in May.