USA beats Canada to win women’s world hockey gold

USA 3 Canada 2 OT ZURICH, Switzerland — While the United States celebrated their third straight women’s world hockey championship, the Canadian women were doing some soul-searching.

USA's forward Jocelyne Lamoureux

USA's forward Jocelyne Lamoureux

USA 3 Canada 2 OT

ZURICH, Switzerland — While the United States celebrated their third straight women’s world hockey championship, the Canadian women were doing some soul-searching.

The Americans beat Canada 3-2 in overtime Monday for their fourth world title in the last five tournaments.

Canada defeated the United States for the Olympic gold medal last year in Vancouver, but haven’t won the world championship since 2007 in Winnipeg.

“We’ve lost three here, so we have to figure that out I think going forward, come back better with better habits,” Canadian captain Hayley Wickenheiser said.

“It comes down to the last second often in a game. A bounce here and a bounce there and that’s what it was tonight.”

Hilary Knight’s winner in overtime was a gift as the puck changed speed through traffic. With Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados stretched to her right post, Knight snared the puck just behind the goal-line at the left corner of the net and tucked it in for the winner.

Canada has won nine world championships but lost to the U.S. 1-0 in a shootout in 2005, 4-3 in 2008 and 3-1 in 2009. The world championship isn’t held in Olympic years.

Jocelyne Lamoureux and Jenny Potter also scored for the U.S., while Jessie Vetter made 51 saves for the win in front of 4,318 at the Zurich Hallenstadion.

“Any time we can win it’s a great feeling and when it’s versus Canada who is one of our biggest rivals, they’re a great team and when we can match up like this (we) produce a great game for women’s hockey,” Knight said.

Gillian Apps and Rebecca Johnston replied for Canada. Szabados made 47 saves in the loss. The Edmonton goaltender was a standout for Canada both in the Olympic final and this year’s championship, but had very different feelings after the loss.

“It sucks. I don’t know how else to put it,” Szabados said. “A terrible feeling and we definitely don’t want to be feeling like this next year.”

The irony of women’s international hockey is that while there are large gaps between countries, so little separates the top two from North America.

Canada won the Four Nations Cup in November, beating the U.S. 3-2 in overtime to win the tournament after dropping a 3-2 decision to the Americans in a shootout during the preliminary round.

The U.S. outshot Canada and had better scoring chances for two periods Monday, but the Canadians gained momentum in the third with a 23-12 margin in shots.

“That was a tough way to lose,” Canadian head coach Ryan Walter.

“It’s a good indicator of the parity between the two teams. It came down to a bounce at the Four Nations Cup and the bounce was on our side and this time the bounce was against us.”

Canada played more games against tougher competition than the U.S. in preparation for the Olympics. But in non-Olympic years, players scatter to their club and college teams and get together for the odd camp or the Four Nations.

Canada and the U.S. had similar prep for this world championship. With the tournament later in April than usual, both countries held selection camps, releasing players at the conclusion of them. Canada and the U.S. split a pair of exhibition games prior to their arrival in Switzerland.

Canada’s defence is young with three new players on the blue-line. That experience showed at times as the U.S. was able to thread the puck through the neutral zone and quickly gain Canada’s territory. At the other end, Canada needed more traffic around Vetter and quicker puck movement to create space.

Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford almost sealed it for Canada in overtime but a rebound from a Wickenheiser blast just eluded Hefford’s stick.

“We needed a little bit more from our back end,” Wickenheiser said.

“For sure, (inexperience) showed, but at the same time we had chances to put the puck in the net and we didn’t capitalize as what often happens in these games.”

Walter didn’t name names, but said more was needed from some players. Meghan Agosta was the Olympic tournament’s MVP and leading scorer, but didn’t score a goal in this tournament.

The line of Caroline Ouellette, Marie-Philip Poulin and Sarah Vaillancourt was shut down by the U.S. in the final.

“It makes you think about all the chances you had in the game when you could have made a difference,” Ouellette said.

The top three teams in the Winter Games also finished in the top three at the world championships as Finland beat Russia 3-2 in overtime for bronze.

Women’s hockey made small steps towards parity this year as Russia played for a medal for the first time in a decade and the host Swiss were within an overtime goal of reaching the semifinals.

In the 13 world women’s championships, Canada and the U.S. have met in the final every time and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. The International Ice Hockey Federation’s four-year, C$2.1-million plan called “Women’s Hockey to Sochi 2014 and Beyond” just kicked in this year.

The NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking at ways they can help grow and promote women’s hockey. It takes almost a decade to develop an elite hockey player, so it’s unlikely the Swiss, Russians, Swedes or Finns can topple the top two to win a major tournament by 2014.

Wickenheiser and defenceman Meaghan Mikkelson were named to the tournament all-star team at their positions as was Finnish forward Michelle Karvinen, U.S. defender Caitlin Cahow, Knight and Slovak goaltender Zuzana Tomcikova. Tomcikova was named tournament MVP for her 237 saves through the tournament. The all-star team and MVP was voted on by the media.

Mikkelson was also chosen top defender by the International Ice Hockey Federation directorate. Sweden finished fifth, the Swiss sixth and Slovakia seventh. Kazakhstan was relegated to the second-tier world championship.

Germany earned promotion to the 2012 women’s world championship in Burlington, Vt.