Team USA may have lost the battle along the way, but when it counted most it won the war.
The Americans did so in quick and impressive fashion, beating Canada, 4-1, in the gold-medal game to capture their second straight world title at the IIHF World Women’s Championships.
The Americans didn’t slide into glory uncontested at the tournament in Hameenlinna, Finland. Just two days earlier, things had gone a little differently as they dropped a 2-1 decision to Canada in the final game of the preliminary round. Coming in just 24 hours after a 7-0 victory over Finland, the U.S. took 10 penalties and failed to convert on seven power-play opportunities in the loss.
“You could almost see it on the ice. There wasn’t the jump in our legs that we had in all the other matches,” says Angela Ruggiero, who has made nine World Women’s Championship appearances.
A day of rest and a few adjustments was all it took for Team USA to rebound and capture the gold, putting them ahead of Canada in the IIHF Women’s World ranking for the first time since the system was introduced in 2004.
Caitlin Cahow’s goal 24 seconds into the contest marked the fastest goal ever in a gold-medal game, and the Americans played 60 minutes of penalty-free hockey en route to the victory, proving that they could play big in the game that really mattered.
“I definitely think it says something about our team in terms of our mental preparation,” says veteran forward Jenny Potter, who tallied a goal and four assists in the tournament. “We didn’t put a pressure situation on ourselves. We just knew we had a great team, and we went into that championship game knowing that we could beat Canada.”
The next game that matters will be on the big stage at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, but these rivals won’t get a break from each other before then. The U.S. and Canada will face off at least eight more times before February, giving Team USA the opportunity to make that target on their back even bigger.
“It’s nice to be on the winning end of things,” Ruggiero says. “I don’t want our team to get complacent and think we can just win the games we need to. There’s definitely room to improve.”
While these two teams have accounted for all 11 World Championships, the quest for Olympic glory certainly isn’t a two-horse race as Finland and 2006 silver medalist Sweden will also be competitive.
“It’s all about momentum, and the fact that the expectations are high, so for us to get two gold medals in a row means everything heading into those games,” Ruggiero says.
“This is our opportunity to peak in our sport. Everyone is watching. The world stops for
the Olympics. There is a lot of pressure for everyone.”