Throughout the Beijing Olympics, the unrestrained bravado of the Canadian women’s hockey team was clear for all to see — and elicit admiration, anger, and fear.
There were insults to the teams going to play for the bronze medal, sharp pitting of competitors, and careful criticism of the failed strategies of scoring at Ann-Renée Desbiens.And The goalkeeper who made the Canadian bend a fortress.
The Canadians on Thursday proved that it all made sense: They beat the United States in the gold-medal match, 3-2, and reclaimed the Olympic crown the Americans grabbed four years ago.
Canada’s victory was a show of well-armed play, mixed with a few doses of luck and a furious dash that kicked off Olympic loss in 2018.
The outcome was one that Canadians tended to predict. To them, a gold medal often seemed like less than salvation and more than meeting a nonstop high standard.
“We played so well that when we play our way – and don’t focus on other teams or focus on who we’re playing with – we are unstoppable,” said Natalie Spooner, striker on her third Canadian Olympic team.
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Canada seemed to score about seven minutes into Thursday’s game when American goalkeeper Alex Cavallini saved a puck’s ball and saw Spooner sweep it with a powerful shot. However, the United States contested that Canada was an intruder, an assessment that officials supported.
“I owe you one,” Spooner said, while sitting on the bench, co-worker Sarah Norse told her. “I was an intruder.”
Thirty-five seconds later, the goal arrived: after Canada won the showdown, the nurse took a pass, rolled and scored.
Canada doubled their lead later in the period with a shot from Mary Philippe Boleyn, the Canada captain who was playing in her fourth games, pushing it to 3-0 when Pauline scored again midway through the second half.
Hilary Knight scored a short-range goal for the United States late in the second half, promising the Americans would at least avoid the indignity of elimination when the gold medal was up for grabs.
The goal of playing the force 13 seconds before play brought the end result close. By that time, the Canadian team realized that their victory was guaranteed.
So did the Americans.
“We wanted to get a lot of pucks in there and we already have a lot of bodies, and I don’t think we did a great enough job,” said US forward Abby Rock.
Thursday’s spectacle was familiar territory, the sixth gold-medal match between Canada and the United States since women’s hockey became an Olympic sport in 1998. The United States claimed their first Olympic title but not another until 2018, when they won a match decided on penalties. It was seen, at least in Canada, as an aberration rather than a harbinger of a shift in power.
Several meetings leading up to Thursday’s game suggested the same. The Canadians won the preliminary round match in Beijing 4-2, setting a record 4-2 in a series of pre-Olympic exhibition games in North America.
The teams were the undisputed giants of gaming. She entered Canada on Thursday, scored 54 goals, an Olympic tournament record, and had three women – Brian Jenner, Sarah Filler and Jamie Lee Rattray – among the top five scorers in Beijing.
The United States had two wins in the closing, twice defeating Finland, who won the bronze medal on Wednesday night.
Led by Kendall Quinn Schofield, captain and one of the world’s fastest skaters, and jockey, who on Thursday set the U.S. record for most games played by a women’s hockey player at the Olympics, the United States was hit by a fearsome attack that forced rival goalkeepers. To face a storm of shots during the tournament.
But the Americans struggled again on Thursday to turn chances into goals. At the same time, they found a Canadian team eager – and able – to score quickly. In the first period, Canada tied the United States in shooting, by 11, a notable turnaround from their last encounter, when the Americans had 16 attempts the first time, and the Canadians managed only five.
The United States eventually overtook Canada in shots again, invoking the Canadian arbiter after their first meeting that the Americans were too happy to try to overwhelm opponents with a barrage of shots that weren’t always good.
However, it was a strategy that worked in most games. But as time waned on Thursday, with the Americans scrambling for the final soundtrack of kicks and hits and emptying their nets with more than three minutes to play, it was clear which team had shown themselves as the best.
Just as Canada has long assured that it will.