Right up until the puck dropped between the U.S. women’s hockey team and rival Canada, everyone stayed on script: Players and coaches alike repeatedly stated they were not looking ahead to this much-anticipated matchup between the gold medal favorites to close out Group A play.
Despite their one-game-at-a-time mantras, they knew this was coming and it had to be hard to not think about it, even if only a little bit. It was on the schedule, after all. With both teams having mowed their way through Finland and the Olympic Athletes from Russia and guaranteeing themselves byes into the semifinals, there was only seeding and pride on the line.
Which of those was the motivating factor became apparent quickly Wednesday, a 2-1 win for Canada to earn to top seed in the tournament bracket.
The U.S. came out flying and physical, but was thwarted at every opportunity by goalie Genevieve Lacasse. Canada had similar luck at the other end of the ice, running into Maddie Rooney’s strong play in the USA crease. It took until the second period for someone to break through: Meghan Agosta’s power-play goal staked Canada to a 1-0 lead until Sarah Nurse’s snipe doubled it minutes later.
Kendall Coyne broke through for the U.S. in the third period, splitting the defense just 23 seconds in, but despite a renewed vigor, it was the only one of the Americans’ 45 that would get past Lacasse.
Canada finishes group play undefeated (3-0) to take the top seed, with the U.S. (2-1) coming in second in Group A.
Here are three thoughts on the matchup:
Lacasse Holds Down the Fort
Lacasse, in her first action of the 2018 Games, was sparkling. She withstood a barrage of early chances, holding the U.S. at bay with calm, controlled movement.
The defense in front of Lacasse looked slow at times, especially after the U.S. picked up the urgency after falling behind 2-0, but the goalie and her teammates bailed one another out when called upon. Witness all five Canadian skaters descending into the crease with just under four minutes left in the second period to keep the puck out of the net. The play led to a penalty shot, but Lacasse stopped Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s between-the-legs attempt with some of that trademark coolness.
Coyne’s goal to open the third period was the only mark on her otherwise perfect record that included 44 saves.
It should be no surprise that Lacasse was stellar; the 28-year-old took home CWHL Goaltender of the Year honors following a championship season with the Boston Blades in 2012-13.
Depth in goal is one of the Canadian strengths; coach Laura Schuler could easily turn to Lacasse, Shannon Szabados or Ann-Renee Desbiens at any point.
The U.S.’s Scoring Troubles Continue
The U.S. brought its new-look, speed-and-creativity-based game to PyeongChang, but it hasn’t done much in the way of goals recently. While it has helped in creating boatloads of shots—the Americans have 137 after three games—they’ve only produced eight goals for a 5.8 shooting percentage. If you take away the five-goal outburst against OAR, it drops to 3.2% (3 goals on 92 shots).
Going back to pre-Olympic play, the USWNT mustered just three goals in its final four tune-up games against the Canadians, all losses.
Some of the U.S.’s troubles were self-inflicted Wednesday. Many of the speed-generated opportunities were done in by extra passes where shots would have been more effective. Numerous high-danger area chances weren’t capitalized on.
There are four days until the start of the semifinals—the opponent has yet to be determined, but it’s a chance to figure things out.
Start Preparing for Round Two
It’s hard to imagine these two squads not getting another shot at each other for the gold medal next Thursday. Finland and OAR, teams that were expected to showcase their recent growth in PyeongChang, unfortunately, came up short. Barring a miracle run by Sweden or Switzerland (and make no mistake, the Swiss team has been a very pleasant surprise during these Games) the group stage showed that there are still no other teams on the same level as the U.S. and Canada.
Buckle up, because there’s a 99.9% chance these teams meet again with gold on the line, one more time.