Canada readies for reassembled U.S.
PLYMOUTH, Mich. — Canada will open the women’s world hockey championship against a U.S. team either drained from the drama of recent days or empowered by winning concessions from their own federation.
Regardless, the Canadians are pleased their archrivals will be on the ice with them Friday in Plymouth, Mich. The U.S. women had threatened to boycott the tournament unless they received more financial support from USA Hockey.
“We wanted them here,” Canadian forward Haley Irwin said. “At a world championship, you want the best teams to be here to compete against and compete for a gold medal.”
The American women’s campaign, and the support they received from tennis legend Billie Jean King to the NHL Players’ Association to U.S. senators, has created a buzz around the host team and defending champions.
“Completely energized,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan declared. “We’re going to use all that momentum we kind of built up, really just channel it in to energy for the start of the tournament.”
The players and USA Hockey came to an agreement Tuesday just in time for the top American players to pursue a fourth straight women’s world title.
The Americans held just their second practice as a team Thursday, compared to the Canadians who have already played two exhibition games during their week-long training camp. Canada and the U.S. have met in the final of every women’s world championship final dating back to the first one in 1990.
Alex Carpenter scored the overtime winner for the U.S. in a 1-0 win last year in Kamloops, B.C. The Americans have won six of the last seven, with Canada’s last gold in 2012 in Burlington, Vt.
“It’s been a while since we won that world championship and I think we’re on a mission right now,” said Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin.
“We want to bring it back to Canada. We know it’s going to be hard.”
Canada is 3-7 versus the U.S. since beating them in an overtime thriller for Olympic gold in 2014.
Canada won their two most recent meetings, by scores of 5-3 and 3-2 in December’s exhibition series.
Canada, the U.S., Finland and Russia are in a pool of the top four countries in the world. Sweden, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Germany are in the other pool.
The two teams with the best records in Canada’s pool get byes to the semifinals. The other two play quarter-finals against the top two teams emerging from the other pool. The medal games are April 7.
All games will be played at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, 40 kilometres west of downtown Detroit. The facility is the home of USA Hockey’s full-time under-17 and under-18 men’s programs.
While upsets of Canada and the U.S. by other countries are rare, Finland went all in attempting to topple Canada in a semifinal in Kamloops.
Down 3-1, coach Pasi Mustonen turned riverboat gambler pulling Meeri Raisanen for an extra attacker on three power plays in the third period starting with the first at 11:22.
The strategy produced mixed results with one power-play goal, but a couple of empty-netters against in a 5-3 loss.
But the Finns no longer have the mentality they’re playing only for bronze in the tournament. Canadian head coach Laura Schuler describes them as “extremely, extremely hungry.”
“That’s the thing about the world championships. Every one is here to win gold,” Schuler said. “There’s a lot of talent right across the spectrum and it can go either way.”
Canada’s roster includes 13 players from the team that won gold in Sochi, Russia.
Poulin of Beauceville, Que., scored four goals in the last two Olympic finals for Canada, including the overtime winner in Sochi.
Edmonton goaltender Shannon Szabados will play her first international tournament for Canada since 2014 after spending the last three years playing men’s hockey.
Halting the American march of world titles before the 2018 Winter Olympics isn’t the only thing at stake for Canada in Plymouth.
Those wearing the Maple Leaf at the world championship also want an invitation to try out for the Olympic team. Hockey Canada is expected to announce its Olympic invitees shortly after the world championships.
Irwin, from Thunder Bay, Ont., Toronto’s Natalie Spooner and Brianne Jenner were named alternate captains Thursday alongside Poulin, who will be Canada’s captain at a second straight world championship.