Canada’s drought continues as U.S. captures storybook gold

Canada's players react after losing to the United States in overtime 3-2 at the IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship gold medal game in Plymouth, Mich., on Friday, April 7, 2017. (Jason Kryk/CP)

PLYMOUTH, Mich.— Marie-Philip Poulin still had her white Team Canada jersey on, but she’d taken off the silver medal that had been placed around her neck just minutes earlier.

Said Canada’s captain: "That was a tough one."

It was, yet again.

For the fourth straight time at an IIHF Women’s World Championship, Canada is second best, on the losing side of a rivalry with the United States. Not since 2012 have the Canadians won at this tournament, which is why they came here "on a mission," as Poulin put it on the eve of this gold-medal game.

But for the fourth time in a row, Team USA came out the winner, this time after a back-and-forth, aggressive, momentum-shift-filled, down-to-the-wire final that had to go to overtime.

And really, what else did you expect out of a matchup between these two countries?

It was Hilary Knight who scored the winner, a bar-down one-timer on a pass from linemate Kendall Coyne, 10:17 into overtime, to give the Americans the 3-2 win. That brought most of this sold out crowd of 3,917 to their feet—everyone aside from the healthy Canadian contingent here.

Between the third period and overtime, Coyne had a quick chat with Knight. "I told her to f-ing rip it," said Coyne, grinning, that gold medal hanging around her neck. "And she did."

Yes, she did.

"I was just thinking I gotta block a shot and then I gotta get it to Kendall ‘cause she’s fast as hell and she’s gonna skate up the ice with it," Knight said, still wearing all her gear and a white championship ball cap.

The American bench cleared right after the puck went in, and gloves and sticks flew into the air as players celebrated at the far boards with Knight and Coyne.

Team Canada’s players stood, leaning on the bench, staring at the ice.

The win is a storybook finish for the Americans, and not only because it’s their first-ever on home soil. In the weeks leading up to this tournament, Team USA threatened to boycott participation here unless USA Hockey came up with a better contract to support both the women’s team and girls’ development programs. Just a few days before the tournament began, an agreement was made.

"To think that we maybe wouldn’t have been on the ice, and to get here—we were on a mission right from Day 1," said forward Amanda Kessel. "Unbelievable."

"The negotiation process took a toll," added Knight. "But we knew it was gonna be a bond that was unbreakable—we set historic landmarks for the next generation. And to build off of that and come in with that momentum and then make another historic landmark for ourselves, winning our next championship here on home soil."

Knight has scored the winner in overtime at the world championships before. This one was sweeter, though.

"It was awesome," she said, of the crowd. "We play in a lot of other places where we’re usually getting booed, so to have cheers is something different."

While Canada had its chances in overtime, the Americans had the bulk of the offensive opportunities. Minutes before Knight struck with the winner, Canadian defender Halli Krzyzaniak basically stole a goal from the Americans, clearing the puck off the goal line. Tournament MVP Brianna Decker also had a couple of good chances to end the game.

Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados, who made 37 saves, kept her team in it.

"She kept us in time and time again, and she always has, and she always will," said veteran forward Meghan Agosta.

It was Agosta who got Canada on the board, and early on, just 1:01 into the game. On a two-on-one rush, Jenn Wakefield saucered a pass over the stick of the American defender, and Agosta wired a wrist shot top corner, glove side, to make it 1-0 Canada.

But as Kessel pointed out, there was plenty of game left. "You know you have to score once to win," said the 25-year-old, who hasn’t been a part of a world championship team since 2013, due to missing nearly three years with concussion symptoms.

"At that point, down 1-0, there’s no panic on our bench. It was huge to get a goal right back."

That one came from veteran American defender Kacey Bellamy to make it 1-1 heading into the second period. It was Bellamy’s first of two, as she struck again in the second to give the Americans their first lead, after getting a through-the-legs pass from Knight right in front.

Canada evened things up when Brianne Jenner hammered home a slap shot on the power play, a goal that was initially waved off, then determined good after a video replay—news that sent the entire Canadian bench into a jump up and down cheer.

Team USA had a barrage of chances in the last two minutes of the third on the power play after Canadian defender Jocelyne Larocque got called for tripping. Kelli Stack had a chance from the slot, Kessel swiped at a bouncing puck off a rebound right in front, and Lee Stecklen rifled one on net from the point. But Szabados shut the door.

Until Knight ripped it in overtime, that is.

"It really hasn’t sunk in yet," Knight said of her game-winner, grinning. "It’s exciting."

The next big game between these two teams will come less than a year from now, at the Olympics, where Canada is the defending champion and winner of the last four gold medals.

Agosta said as the team prepares for the next Winter Games, the big lesson from this loss, aside from needing more quality shots, is the loss itself. As she put it, her silver medal no longer hanging around her neck: "Remember what it feels like."

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