Close, as the old saying goes, is normally reserved for horseshoes and hand grenades. It’s safe to say that in the world of women’s hockey the rivalry between the United States and Canada can be added to the mix.
While the gap continues to widen between the top two hockey-playing countries and the rest of the world, the difference between singing your country’s national anthem with gold draped around your neck and skating off the ice in tears is as narrow as the distance between the U.S. scoring an own-goal in overtime and celebrating a third consecutive IIHF World Women’s Championship.
A little more than a year after watching the Canadians light up victory cigars on Olympic ice in Vancouver, the U.S. Women’s Team extracted a smaller but no less meaningful measure of revenge by winning a, 3-2, overtime thriller to cap off another dominating run against international competition.
“Canada happened to win the last Olympics,” U.S. captain Angela Ruggiero said. “We really flip-flop who’s number one in the world. Unfortunately, we didn’t win last year; that’s why it feels so good to win today.”
Hilary Knight capped off an impressive tournament by tapping in the game winner past a helpless Shannon Szabados, who followed her Olympic shutout with a 47-save encore performance.
The only blemishes on her stat sheet were a first-period goal by the Lamoureux sister act and a second-period highlight-reel tally by Jenny Potter.
For her part, U.S. goaltender Jesse Vetter was equally spectacular, stopping 51 shots, including 22 in the third period as the Canadians pressed for the equalizer.
For the 4,318 Swiss fans inside the Zurich Hallenstadion and the thousands watching back home, there was little doubt that Canada would find a way to even the score and set the stage for an extra session of hockey.
Canada won the Four Nations Cup, beating the U.S., 3-2, in overtime after dropping a, 3-2, shootout decision in the preliminary round. The teams split a pair of exhibition games prior to their arrival in Switzerland.
Facing off in gold-medal games has become old hat for the North American rivals. The U.S. and Canada have met in every World Championship final since the tournament debuted in 1990, and in four of five Olympic gold-medal games.
While the U.S. and Canada maintained their stranglehold on the top spots in the sport, women’s hockey took a small step toward parity as Russia played for a medal for the first time in a decade, and the host Swiss were within an overtime goal of reaching the semifinals.
Finland held onto the third spot in the world with an overtime victory over a Russian team that is looking to improve its program in preparation for hosting the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
“Right now, women's hockey is on the brink,” said Caitlin Cahow, who had a hand (or in this case skate) in the winning goal. “Even though scores remain lopsided, any player will tell you that the competition is much more compelling, especially among up-and-coming programs like Russia and Switzerland, than it has been historically.”
The U.S. caught a break in overtime when an errant pass slid just wide of their empty goal that was vacated by Vetter who left the ice for an extra attacker on a delayed Canadian penalty call.
Moments later, Julie Chu carried the puck into the Canadian zone and sent a pass that deflected off Cahow’s skate and right to Knight, who deposited it into the back of the net.
“I thought to myself that I have to put this in the net or else the girls on the bench are going to be extremely unhappy with me,” said Knight, who led the tournament in scoring with 14 points.
“It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe when you score such a goal. It was a bit of a gift at the right time.”
As the American women continue to dominate on the world stage, there is hope that this latest victory will help to soften the sting of falling in the Olympic finals in Vancouver. The next chapter in this storied rivalry will take place in Burlington, Vt., as the U.S. prepares to host the IIHF World Women’s Championship for the first time since 2001.
“Last year, it was really hard to lose the Olympic final, so we’re definitely going in the right direction,” said Monique Lamoureux-Kolls. “The biggest difference was ‘defense first.’ We’ve had a lot of talk about that in the locker room. Today we worked hard, and it paid off.”