SOCHI, Russia – There was some history, but not the kind the U.S. women’s hockey team had in mind at Shayba Arena on Wednesday afternoon. When Hilary Knight tipped a shot behind Charline Labonte it was the first time Canada had trailed at an Olympics through 1,057 minutes 34 seconds of game play.
But that didn’t keep Canada from extending its win streak at this event to 18 games – dating all the way back to the 1998 final in Nagano – thanks to a disputed Hayley Wickenheiser goal in the third period. Consider it another layer to the hottest rivalry in women’s hockey.
“If you were on the ice, you can hear that whistle before the puck went in,” U.S. forward Amanda Kessel said after the 3-2 loss.
Wickenheiser had already found Meghan Agosta with a gorgeous pass to tie things up early in the third period when her shot trickled past American goaltender Jessie Vetter just 93 seconds later. The only problem was that referee Anna Eskola had seemingly blown the play dead before the puck went in.
However, the goal survived a video review – much to the dismay of U.S. coach Katey Stone – and clearly turned the game in Canada’s favour. The Americans seemed stunned and ended up allowing Agosta to spring free for a breakaway goal that became much more meaningful when Anne Schleper pulled them back within one with 65 seconds left.
Afterwards, the U.S. players kept their perspective while recounting the incident.
“I thought it was under me and then all of a sudden it’s in,” said Vetter. “I thought there was a whistle, but that’s just the way the game goes. You can’t take it back now. You’ve just got to move forward and play.”
Added Wickenheisder: “I looked over at (NBC commentator) Pierre McGuire and he gave me a little wink, so I knew it might be good.”
It was the most significant victory for the Canadian team since Kevin Dineen took over as coach following Dan Church’s abrupt resignation in December. The U.S. had won four straight head-to-head meetings in advance of the tournament and was considered the gold-medal favourite here.
However, the Canadians poured some cold water on that notion thanks to a strong final 20 minutes on Wednesday. Their chase for a fourth straight gold medal at this event is clearly alive and well.
“There’s always pride on the line (against the U.S.),” said Wickenheiser. “Nobody wants to give an inch whether it’s a gold-medal (game) or not. It feels like a gold-medal game every time we play because we are the two best teams in the sport on most nights.
“We push each other.”
The pace of this back-and-forth game was fantastic and both Labonte and Vetter had to be sharp in the early going. But Wickenheiser, who lost her captaincy prior to this tournament, proved to be a game-breaker when the team needed her most.
All of which sets the stage nicely for the expected rematch between these teams in the gold-medal game next Thursday.
“It was exactly what we expected,” said Dineen. “One-goal game, a see-saw back and forth … It was a typical U.S.-Canada hockey game. I would expect nothing else out of them.”
The Americans were already looking forward to a rematch.
“We’re not happy with tonight, but the thing is – hopefully we can have another crack at them,” said Kessel.