WWHC Takeaways: Canadian women simply the best in 2022

Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin, left, and Brianne Jenner, centre, hold the trophy after The IIHF World Championship Woman's ice hockey gold medal match between USA and Canada in Herning, Denmark, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022. (Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin was lying on the ice, having just absorbed an American shot with her body, and then seconds later, No. 29 was back up on her skates to absorb hugs from her world champion teammates.

Team Canada did it, yet again.

On Sunday night in Denmark, the Canadians defended their World Women’s Hockey Championship with a 2-1 down-to-the-wire victory over the rival Americans. Canada’s world title comes in the same year the team won Olympic gold, and the same year the country’s U-18 women’s team captured top spot.

What a year for women’s hockey in Canada, eh?

When it was all over, the Canadian women jump-hugged with goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens, who was sensational yet again with the big game on the line, and particularly in the late going.

And, as always, when Canada and the U.S. battle for women’s hockey gold, it came down to the dying seconds. It came down to a goal. It solidified the fact that this rivalry is one of the greatest in sports history.

Here are some takeaways from Sunday night in Herning.

Canada can’t take advantage early on

It was a tight start, which is often the case in these big games that also feature big nerves. There was a lot of play in the neutral zone and along the boards, and it was American forward Alex Carpenter who had the best chance of the first, when she rung one off Canada’s crossbar.

There were just seven shots (five from Canada, two from the Americans) in the first 20 minutes.

But if any team had a chance to capitalize in the first period, it was Canada. About halfway through the opening period, the defending champions earned the first power-play opportunity of the game, but barely gained entry into the American zone. And it was little better on Canada’s second power-play near the end of the first.

You had to wonder: Would early missed opportunities come back to bite Canada, up against an American team that came into this game averaging more than eight goals per game?

Bingo, bango: Jenner pots points No. 100 and 101

Team Canada veteran Brianne Jenner, who played this entire tournament on the wing of captain Poulin, had a quiet start offensively in Denmark, with just a single goal heading into the final. But Jenner is a big-game player — she was the MVP at the 2022 Olympics — and Sunday was no different.

The 31-year-old from Oakville, Ont., opened the game’s scoring midway through the second after Poulin banked a soft pass off the boards to lead Jenner into the American zone. Jenner carried the puck in, and while teammate Jamie Lee Rattray was streaking to the net down the right wing, Jenner no doubt fooled American goalie Nicole Hensley by opting to take a low shot instead of forcing the pass. The goal marked Jenner’s 100th point in history for the national team.

And then, less than two minutes later, Jenner recorded No. 101 of her career on the power play, wiring a beautiful shot from the left circle over Hensley’s shoulder and into the top right corner.

It was 2-0, Canada. But you knew it wasn’t going to end so easily.

Kessel threads another beauty

The second period was nearly over when Team USA, down 2-0, got its first power-play chance of the game. And the Americans sure made good on it, with just 20 seconds to go in the period.

Captain Kendall Coyne Schofield willed the puck into the Canadian zone, battling her way past a couple of Canadians, and when she lost the puck, there was teammate Amanda Kessel to pick it up. Kessel carried the puck almost as deep as the Canadian goal-line, and then threaded the prettiest pass of the game across the crease to Abby Roque, who was streaking to the net, unnoticed by anyone in red and white.

That marked Kessel’s 11th assist of this tournament, and for Coyne, it broke the American record for all-time assists at the world championship, with 41. Canada’s lead was reduced to just one heading into the decisive third period. As per the rivalry’s script, really.

Desbiens comes up big

Heading into this final, the dynamic American offence was certainly one of the biggest stories of this tournament. Team USA entered the gold-medal game with a ridiculous 52 goals in six games.

And early in the third, the Americans had one heck of a chance to tie this game up. They would have, too, were it not for Desbiens.

The Canadian goalie was down protecting her near post as American Kelly Pannek got a shot away, and then Pannek managed to get the puck over to the far post, where teammate Lacey Eden was waiting. Somehow, Desbiens slid over post in time to stop Eden’s shot and keep Canada up 2-1.

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Not long after that, Desbiens got her team — and herself — out of trouble yet again.

The Americans drew a power play after Desbiens bobbled a bouncing puck and then tripped American star Hilary Knight, who managed to get a shot off as Desbiens was recovering.

Team USA got some good chances on the power-play — Desbiens was lying in the crease on her back, and the puck was loose when the whistle went, with a melee of American and Canadian players looking for it. But, despite all of the offensive weapons in red, white and blue, the Americans couldn’t convert.

Down to the buzzer

Down 2-1, Team USA pulled Hensley from her net with a little more than two minutes to go.

Their best chance to tie things up came with about 30 seconds to go, when defender Megan Keller wired one on net, and the rebound came out to Coyne Schofield. Desbiens was down, and she and made not one, not two, but three saves on the American captain, in close.

Canadian forward Blayre Turnbull made a stop herself in the late going. So did Poulin. And then it was all over, and the Canadians tossed their gloves in the air in celebration.

As a smiling Desbiens later told TSN’s Julia Tocheri, sporting a white champions ballcap: Stopping the puck “doesn’t need to be pretty.”

Gold medal presentation rightfully raises eyebrows

Editor’s Note: The following story deals with sexual assault, and may be distressing for some readers.

If you or someone you know is in need of support, those in Canada can find province-specific centres, crisis lines and services here. For readers in America, a list of resources and references for survivors and their loved ones can be found here.

Canada’s women received their gold medals from Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith. And you have to wonder: Why was Smith given the honour?

There have been many calls for his resignation since it was exposed earlier this year that Hockey Canada was using its funding in part to quietly pay a settlement after a young woman alleged she was sexually abused by eight players, including unnamed members of the 2018 men’s world junior hockey team, in London, Ont. Halifax police also are investigating an incident with the 2003 world junior men’s team. And yet, the board continues to support Smith, and Hockey Canada refuses to make changes.

To see Smith out there handing out medals resonated as yet another tone deaf move from Hockey Canada, and it’s hardly appropriate following a big achievement by the women’s team.

On the other hand — and, to end a big win for Canada on a well-deserved positive note — there was a beautiful moment for the winners this year: The Canadian women were joined on ice by their families for the celebration. That was a very nice touch.

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