Canada’s women’s hockey team survived a late scare to win the opener of an exhibition series against the United States.
Tara Watchorn scored in the third period before the U.S. rallied with two goals, only to fall 3-2 to Canada on Saturday.
The game is the first of six meetings between the rivals prior to the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in February.
The results mean little, but the preparation is key for two teams likely to meet again at the gold-medal game in Sochi. Canada, the three-time defending Olympic champion, and the U.S. have met in three of four Olympic finals, and all 15 women’s world championships.
The Americans defeated Canada 3-2 in Ottawa this year to reclaim the world title.
Canada’s head coach Dan Church had that loss at the worlds in mind after the win Saturday.
“I think we wanted to set the tone here for the series,” he said. “We also wanted to have a little redemption based on our last game. I think that’s the way it’s going to go for both teams as we move through this year. No one’s going to want to let the other one get up too many, so it was a good start for us.”
The game ended in a brawl. A U.S. player clipped Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados outside her crease with just over three minutes left, sparking the fight with all 10 skaters squaring off. Two players from each team were charged with major penalties for roughing and game misconducts.
“We had a similar scrap in 2010, so I guess we have one every Olympic cycle to get it out of our system,” said Hayley Wickenheiser.
“It was kind of fun to see, and it brought a lot of intensity to another dog fight with these guys. There are few if any blowouts in this series.”
After a scoreless first, Caroline Ouellette and Bailey Bram gave Canada a 2-0 lead in the second period.
Watchorn made it 3-0 on the power play 4:45 into the third. The 23-year-old defenceman from Newcastle, Ont., is one of 27 players hoping to make the 21-player Olympic roster.
“I’m one of the younger defencemen coming in, and for me I’m just enjoying the entire process and trying to find my role and keep it simple on the blue-line and hopefully be there when the time comes for Sochi,” said Watchorn.
But the Americans made Canada work for the win. Brianna Decker scored with a 5-on-3 man advantage at 11:05 and Gigi Marvin got the U.S. within one at 14:39.
“I thought the first 40 minutes we really dictated the pace,” said Church. “A couple five-minute (penalties) and a game misconduct there at the end of the game, our players stood up for our goaltender.
“Emotionally that’s really important for our development as a team as well.”
Szabados, who is vying for starts at Sochi with Charline Labonte and Genevieve Lacasse, finished with 15 saves.
Her American counterpart, Brianne McLaughlin, stopped 26 shots.
Canada and the U.S. next meet Thursday in Boisbriand, Que.
— With files from the Associated Press.
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