Nobody said it was going to be easy, and the team Canada Women’s hockey team found out exactly how hard winning this tournament was going to be when they lost their first game of the IIHF Women’s World Championship 3–1 to the reigning champions from the United States.
The tournament will be running from March 28 to April 4 in Kamloops, and although there were games taking place earlier on Monday, March 28, the tournament truly got underway with the opening puck drop between the two fiercest rivals in women’s hockey, Canada and the U.S.
The two teams have played in every final of the women’s world championship, capturing every single gold and silver ever awarded by the International Ice Hockey Federation in the process. You can’t have a rivalry of that magnitude without some bad blood between the two competitors, and that showed in Monday night’s contest.
There were 5,400 people crammed into a sold-out Sandman Centre in downtown Kamloops to watch the game and every single one of them was trying their hardest to play a part in the rivalry.
“The crowd tonight was unbelievable, they gave us that extra motivation to get going tonight when we needed it and we thank them for all the support,” said team Canada defenceman Laura Fortino.
Team Canada certainly seemed bolstered by the support of the crowd early on in the game. They came out flying and had three shots on goal just 30 seconds into the contest. The U.S. was able to weather the storm early though and took control of the game when Canada was penalized twice in quick succession just five minutes in.
Down two skaters is always a tough spot to be in but Canada made the penalty kill look easy. Emerance Maschmeyer, starting in her first game for team Canada at a world championship, was everywhere in net making save after save to help her team escape from the dangerous situation.
The first period ended with the score still at 0–0 but Canada’s penalty troubles allowed Team USA to gather momentum heading into the second frame.
Penalties again hurt Canada in the second period; they were short-handed three more times in the frame and were it not for the incredible play of their penalty killers, Maschmeyer in particular, the Americans could have scored multiple goals.
“We spent a lot of time focussing on our specialty teams. You can’t ignore how good their power play is. Tonight I was just so happy and proud of our girls at how they performed on the kill,” said Team Canada head coach Laura Schuler.
Canada caught their first break of the game, when after five successive penalties called against them, the Americans were penalized in the last minute of the second period.
As it was, the game still remained scoreless after two periods, with Team USA holding a 25–13 lead in shots on goal.
Canada needed just 14 seconds of the third period to make their first man advantage of the game count. A loose puck bounced out to Fortino on the blueline and the defenceman made no mistake, putting the puck into the top corner and drawing forth an explosion from the Canadian crowd that almost blew the roof off the Sandman Centre.
This wouldn’t be the rivalry that it is without some drama however, and at the 10-minute mark of the third period Hilary Knight, who was named the best forward at last year’s world championships, finally found a way to solve Maschmeyer. Knight cut in off the wing and let a snap-shot go far-side that just squeezed between Maschmeyer and the post, tying the game up 1–1.
Eventually all the penalties that Canada was taking throughout the game were going to catch up to them, and that happened just three minutes after Knight’s goal when Brianna Decker banged home a rebound on the power play for Team USA giving them their first lead of the game with just six minutes to play.
Canada mounted a furious comeback, hitting the post multiple times, but the equalizing goal evaded them. Knight put the game to bed with an empty net goal with 20 seconds left in the game.
As is often the case in games played between these teams the outcome was decided by inches, and the veterans on team Canada know that they can’t get too down after the defeat.
“There’s a lot of positives out of that game and we just need to keep moving forward. There’s no medal being given for that game tonight,” said Team Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin.
Canada now has games against Russia and Finland before the elimination round begins and the team is determined to get the gold on home soil, something Canada hasn’t done at the world championships since 2007.
“We’re going to use this as momentum and we’re going to get the win in Kamloops,” Maschmeyer said.