GANGNEUNG — If you listened to the post-game dissection from the United States’ point of view on Thursday, you might have thought the Canadians were destroyed in their first meaningful contest of the 2018 Olympics.
Canada beat the Americans 2-1 for a fifth consecutive victory over their rivals to finish off a 3-0 sweep in group play.
Listening to the Americans talk post-game, they seem to believe they are suddenly the gold-medal favourites just because they outshot Canada.
But U.S. forward Amanda Kessel said as much — perhaps trying to convince herself — by declaring that the Americans had “put some doubt” in the minds of the Canadians because somehow the shot clock had more meaning than the scoreboard.
It was an amusing stab at gamesmanship, but if anything the result that mattered increased the belief among the Canadian players, who won five of six contests in a pre-Game series with the U.S.
“I think we have some things to improve on, but we’re definitely confident with where we’re at and where we’re going,” said Canada rookie Sarah Nurse, whose first Olympic goal stood up as the game winner. “We have a lot of confidence in every player on this team from the back end out.
“We’re going to keep riding it.”
The Canadians were far from perfect but they weren’t intimidated in the slightest. And the win carries with it some significance in that it sets up the possibility of the easier of two semi-final games on Monday.
Yes, they were outshot 45-24 and even though she was brilliant in net, Canadian goaltender Genevieve Lacasse heard the post ring four times including once in a frantic final minute.
But to suggest that the Americans in any way rocked the Canadians’ confidence is laughable. Even American coach Robb Stauber was getting in on the act after the game.
“I don’t know if anything went wrong,” Stauber said of the loss. “We’re three games into this tournament and we’ve outshot our teams (by a 2-1 margin) in every game. We believe if we stick to the process of outshooting teams 2-1, it’s not a matter of if it is going to happen, it’s a matter of when.”
And what about the five-game losing streak against Canada — not to mention four consecutive losses in Olympic finals?
“We’re not worried about that, nope,” Stauber declared. “Those games that we played in the past have nothing to do with our future.”
Thursday’s game was typical of so many contests between the two women’s hockey powerhouses. It was fast. It was physical. And there were a number of skirmishes, including one in the Canadian crease as time ran out that included some punches thrown. The rivalry clearly escalates a notch or three at the Olympics.
“They’re always high-intensity games,” U.S. forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said. “They’re pretty much going to come out hard and we’re going to come out hard. Those are pretty much how these games always go.”
While it wasn’t a dominant win by Canada, they also had a pair of goals called back. It was somewhat of a gruesome opening marred by series of giveaways and a brutal line change that handed the Americans a breakaway.
The Canadians settled in after that, however, with Nurse and Meghan Agosta scoring in the second period and Lacasse beyond steady in the net. Despite the volume of rubber sent her way, the third Canadian goalie to get action at these Games suggested the workload wasn’t as onerous as you might think.
“I always expect a lot of shots against the U.S., but I think we did a great job keeping the shots to the outside,” Lacasse said. “They usually get a good amount of shots but not that many quality ones.”
Agosta, who opened the scoring 7:18 into the second period, moved closer to making women’s hockey history as she chases her fourth gold medal. It was Agosta’s second goal of the Games, giving her 17 overall, one shy of Canadian great Hayley Wickenheiser’s Olympic record.
A constable with the Vancouver police department, Agosta was front and centre when things got physical. She wasn’t bothered by the on-ice stuff and not buying any of the off-ice chirping post game either.
“We definitely have another level,” Agosta said. “It’s always a battle, especially playing the U.S. They just keep it coming and we knew it was going to be chippy out there but it was a good win for us.”