The women skated around the face-off circle, all having already mastered the Finns, Swiss and Russians.
They had come to the Beijing Games for this: another duel between Canada and the United States, the most famous rivalry in women’s hockey.
Late in the afternoon at the Wukesong Sports Center after Canada’s 4-2 victory, the Canadians oozed confidence, the Americans broke down and the rest of the peloton in Beijing braced themselves for all attacks the two could unleash in the coming days as they chase the Olympic title. which will be awarded on February 17.
Since the beginning of the Games, neither Canada nor the United States had faced a showdown of speed and power like the one that unfolded on Tuesday. It was not surprising. The two are the only two countries to win gold medals since women’s hockey became an Olympic sport in 1998.
The Canadians were, as always, efficient shooters, hitting USA goalie Maddie Rooney 27 times. The United States challenged their Canadian counterpart, Ann-Renée Desbiens, with 53 shots.
“For us, we really want to focus on quality chances rather than quantity,” said Canadian striker Sarah Nurse. “I know we’ve had a lot of shots this tournament as well, but I think we focus a lot on Category A scoring chances.”
Digging a bit deeper, Nurse added: “Yeah, USA had a lot of perimeter shots, but we had a stellar goalie, and so if you’re going to shoot from the outside, you’re not going to mark on it.”
The United States conceded they would need a new strategy against Desbiens, who is competing in his second Olympics.
“It’s good to have zone time and shots on goal, but when they block as many as they have and some of those things, the shots don’t matter,” said Joel Johnson, the American coach. “We have to find another way to create better quality scoring chances if we hope to win a game like this.”
Canada’s offensive power didn’t start as quickly as in other games, with the puck barely falling before the goal horn sounded.
It all started with just under six minutes left in the first period, when, as the Americans lost a player to a crosscheck penalty, Marie-Philip Poulin took control of the puck. She moved on to Sarah Fillier, who was prowling around the Olympic rings just beyond the goal line.
Fillier slid the puck to Brianne Jenner, who extended her stick just far enough to redirect it past Rooney, whose head fell instantly in dismay.
The transnational defensive magic of the first period, despite the goal, did not last. In fact, it was almost dropped for about eight minutes in the second period when the Americans and Canadians combined for five goals.
Almost halfway through the 60-minute game, Kelly Pannek, an American striker, passed to a rapidly approaching Dani Cameranesi. A missed defender, and Cameranesi leveled the score.
Thirty seconds later, officials cited Canadian forward Emily Clark for boarding. It was another chance for the Americans, who had failed to score on two previous power plays, and Alex Carpenter quickly fired the puck into the United States goal, giving the Americans the smallest of advantages.
It lasted 26 seconds.
Then Jenner scored after Rooney’s bet on where the puck would fly went wrong. Jamie Lee Rattray, a Canadian forward, added another goal to her team’s total soon after.
Things got worse for the Americans a few minutes later when a hook shot led to a penalty shot, which Poulin converted to give Canada a two-goal lead.