Canada takes Round 1

Melody Davidson closed her eyes and shook her head while contemplating which goaltender she’ll choose for the world women’s hockey championship final.

Canada’s goalie Charline Labonte hurdles over teammate Catherine Ward and U.S. player Hilary Knight on Friday during Canada’s 2-1 win.

Canada’s goalie Charline Labonte hurdles over teammate Catherine Ward and U.S. player Hilary Knight on Friday during Canada’s 2-1 win.

Canada 2 U.S.A. 1

HAMEENLINNA, Finland — Melody Davidson closed her eyes and shook her head while contemplating which goaltender she’ll choose for the world women’s hockey championship final.

The Canadian coach’s decision became that much harder with the performance of Charline Labonte in Canada’s 2-1 win over the defending champion U.S. in a playoff game Friday.

Montreal’s Caroline Ouellette and Winnipeg’s Jennifer Botterill scored for Canada in what was a preview of Sunday’s gold-medal game between the two countries (TSN, 10 a.m.).

While the game’s outcome was meaningless in the standings, the Canadians wanted the victory after losing to the U.S. three of four games in 2008.

Jayna Hefford of Kingston, Ont., had two assists to surpass a career 200, which made her only the third player to do so behind Hayley Wickenheiser and Danielle Goyette. Monique Lamoureux scored a late goal for the U.S.

Canada (4-0) and the U.S. (3-1) will meet in the 12th final in as many world championships. Canada has a 9-2 record in those games, but the U.S. took the title last year in Harbin, China.

Sweden, which thrashed Russia 8-0 on Friday, will meet Finland for the bronze medal Sunday. Japan doubled China 2-1 in relegation round play.

Labonte, who hadn’t played since facing just five shots in Canada’s tournament-opener versus China, made a jaw-dropping glove save midway through the first period after little work during the opening minutes.

The 26-year-old from Boisbriand, Que., also helped her team kill off a pair of U.S. 5-on-3 power plays and stopped Jenny Potter on a short-handed breakaway in the second period. She made 22 saves for the victory.

Kim St. Pierre of Chateauguay, Que., posted back-to-back shutouts Monday and Wednesday, so “oh, who knows?” was Davidson’s response when queried on which one would get the coveted start Sunday.

“It’s incredibly hard,” Davidson said. “Charline played well enough to play on Sunday. Kim played well enough in those other two games to be able to play and I could probably throw Shannon (Szabados) in there and she’d be outstanding as well.

“It’ll probably just come down to a gut feeling because how do you choose?”

Players on both sides thought the U.S. scored first when Meghan Duggan had half the net at which to shoot midway through the opening period.

Duggan dropped to her knee to tip in a goal-mouth pass. Labonte stretched her glove back just in time to snare the puck in her webbing as the Americans were raising their arms in the air in celebration.

“It was an unbelievable save,” Duggan said. “Can’t take anything away from her. I think it caught our own team off guard. Our entire bench was screaming ‘goal, goal, goal.’ She bit me on that one.”

Davidson also thought her team had fallen behind 1-0 and had begun recording who was on the ice for the goal against.

“How about the save?” she said. “I was already writing down plus-minus, so that tells you what I saw. Then I saw the replay and said ‘oh man, she saved that puck.’ It was a great boost for us.”

Labonte ranks that stop with a diving save she made versus the U.S. at the 2007 world championship in Winnipeg.

“This one was even sweeter,” she said. “Most of the time you’re going to miss those saves and this time I caught it. That’s the kind of save you need to keep your team in the game and they were playing so well in front of me.”

Canada’s penalty killers were on their game and held the Americans scoreless on five chances. Canada had a big kill late in the third when the U.S. had almost a minute two-man advantage. Davidson estimated her team blocked 20 shots Friday.

“We were like ‘Charline’s holding us in the game’ so we just went out there and built on that save,” Montreal defenceman Catherine Ward said.

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