It didn’t look right, and for a long time it didn’t feel right.
Team Canada vs. Team USA matches are supposed to be dramatic, thrillers right down to the final buzzer – often beyond.
This one ended up going to overtime and then a shootout – with a final score of 3-2 for Canada on Jennifer Wakefield’s backhand – but the way it got there hardly felt like a close, edge-of-the-seat match such as these two teams have so often produced.
Perhaps it was the uniforms, the traditional, beloved red Team Canada jerseys swapped for black-and-yellow uniforms that made this game look, from a distance, like the Boston Bruins playing the Toronto Maple Leafs, certainly not Canada against the U.S. on the opening day of the International Ice Hockey Federation women’s world championship.
The Canadians were wearing the Nike colours of Livestrong Foundation, a good cause founded by a bad man, disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong. All that we can say to that is that it’s unfortunate the Terry Fox Foundation wasn’t able to outfit them in colours more in keeping with Canadian glory in international hockey.
The Canadians entered this world championship with an overall 14-7-0 record against arch-rival Team USA in such international competition, yet they seemed decidedly the underdog from the drop of the puck.
The Americans, smaller in size, seemed faster in speed early in the match, and far better organized in both their own end and the Canadian end, where the Canadian women had trouble clearing the zone and seemed flummoxed when it came to net coverage.
Clearly, the Americans – silver medalists to Canada’s gold at the Vancouver Winter Games – had anticipated more right off the start.
“There’s still a lot of heat,” U.S. captain Julie Chu had said before the match. “It’s going to be a battle.”
“It’s a very good rivalry,” added American forward Alex Carpenter. “I wouldn’t say hate, but I think a very high tension on the ice.”
“When we get out there,” said Amanda Kessel, sister to Toronto Maple Leafs star, Phil, “no one’s friends.”
The Canadians certainly seemed up to it in the morning skate.
“You wake up in the morning with a smirk on your face,” said Canada’s Tessa Bonhomme.
“There’s nothing better than throwing on that jersey and looking across the ice and seeing the Americans.”
The problem must have been that jersey – it just didn’t seem like the Team Canada Canadians know and love was out there for large parts of the game.
There would be no real heat in this contest until past the halfway point of the third period.
And then it became a terrific match – as had been advertised. But first it had to get there.
The Americans scored early, 4 minutes 5 seconds into the opening period, on a weak power-play goal when forward Monique Lamoureux was left standing alone at the side of the Canadian net, took a pass from her twin sister Jocelyne and flicked the puck high into the short side past goaltender Shannon Szabados.
The Canadians rarely threatened in the opening 20 minutes. At one point the shots were 10-to-1 in favour of Team U.S.A., though American goaltender Jesse Vetter was forced to make an excellent pad save on Canada’s next attempt, a hard shot on the rebound by Canadian defender Lauriane Rougeau.
The Americans made it 2-0 when Brianna Decker was sent in by Kessel – the U.S. college player of the year – and Decker was able to put her own rebound past Szabados.
The Canadians’ inability to put much together this early April night was most apparent early in the second period when they were handed three power-play opportunities in a row – including a 1:10 stretch of 5-on-3 hockey – but could not threaten. Passes that weren’t missed were bobbled.
Halfway through the game, Canada had managed but seven shots on the American net. Only the play of Szabados kept the Canadians in the game, at one point stopping U.S. forward Kacey Bellamy on a clear breakaway.
In the third period, the early heroics went to Vetter, at one point stopping Canada’s Laura Fortino on what seemed a certain power-play goal.
The Canadian women finally made something happen shortly after killing off a bodychecking penalty to Gillian Apps. They got the puck into the American end, had two good chances, with Vetter keeping them at bay, but then, with Vetter sprawled on the ice, Fortino was able to jump in from the point and flick a puck high over the fallen bodies into the American net.
Finally, more than 50 minutes in, the anticipated “heat” had arrived. The Canadians pressed hard and the announced crowd of 11,174 came to life. Suddenly, passes connected, shots worked – but they could not hit the net and, when they did, Vetter was usually there.
But she could not stop the Canadians’ final, desperate drive in the fading minutes, when Catherine Ward came in from the point and buried the tying goal that sent this game to overtime.
"Down but never out -- it's a work in progress," Bonhomme said.
Canadian forward Marie-Philip Poulin hit the post on one rush in the extra five minutes, but neither side could score the goal that would have settled matters during actual play.
Then Jennifer Wakefield settled it as the seventh shooter in the shootout.