VANCOUVER—The Canadian women, who only gave up two goals this entire Olympic hockey tournament, have their three-peat.
They are golden once again.
With Canada’s men’s team on hand in support, watching from high up in the press box, the women jumped to a 2-0 first period lead and then held on behind the magnificent goaltending of Shannon Szabados to make that the final score.
The Americans won gold when women’s hockey was introduced to the Olympics at Nagano in 1998 but the top of the podium has been reserved for Canada ever since. While the Americans spoke of the pressure the Canadian women would be under on their own ice, much as they were as silver medallists at Salt Lake City in 2002, the Canadians melded the energy at Canada Hockey Place with their own desire to make sure the championship was never in doubt.
Dominant early and persistent throughout, this was a show of Canada’s strength as a team and a development program. Megan Agosta, the tournament’s leading scorer with 14 points, is only 23. While the Americans were able to limit Agosta in this final, two of the best players on the ice were also young.
Shannon Szabados, the sensational netminder, is only 23 and just establishing herself on the national scene. Both of Canada’s goals were scored by Marie-Philip Poulin who has not yet reached her 18th birthday.
With quality players like that coming up through the ranks, a four-peat certainly isn’t out of the question.
With three solid netminders, the decision on who to start in goal could not have been an easy one for coach Melody Davidson. But as the first period moved along, it became clear she certainly made the right call.
Shannon Szabados, the 23-year-old who plays men’s college hockey in Edmonton, made several big saves through that opening 20 minutes as the Canadians struggled at first with the Americans’ speed and then with their own penalty trouble.
Szabados flashed the leather three times as she stretched to make glove saves. One of the blasts was going wide but she took sure goals away from with Caitlin Cahow and Molly Engstrom with her rapier-like reflexes.
Davidson makes a habit of not telling her netminders who is playing until the night before a game and the information remains within the team. The guessing was, with the gold on the line. Davidson would go to Szabados who has emerged this season as Canada’s goalie of the future. But it remained a mystery until she led her team on the ice and skated out to the blue paint.
The Canadians have been pumped for this anticipated clash since before they arrived here in Vancouver and they only got more amped as they rolled through the four early games, crushing weaker opponents by a cumulative score of 46-2. That tied their own record for goals in an Olympic tournament with the gold medal game still to go.
Canada’s exuberance almost got the better of them in the first period when Gina Kingsbury took a penalty for bodychecking and then Catherine Ward took one for interference when she shoved American captain Natalie Darwitz to the ice.
Canada was short two players for 39 seconds, but the goaltending of Szabados and shot blocking by veteran Hayley Wickenheiser held the Americans off the scoreboard.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Marie-Philip Poulin was making a statement for the future of Canadian hockey by tapping in two goals to stake Canada to a 2-0 lead.
On the first, Poulin converted a pass from veteran Jennifer Botterill. Her one-timer from the left faceoff circle fluttered but it had enough carry to float over the outstretched glove of American goalkeeper Jessie Vetter, the top women’s player in the NCAA last season.
Poulin’s second came off a face off in the U.S. end. Poulin won the draw but when Meghan Agosta’s shot was blocked by Caitlin Cahow, the teenager pounced on the loose puck in the slot and, again, chipped it over Vetter’s catching glove.
The Canadians then began shutting things down. A large part of keeping the Americans off the scoreboard in the second was a strong effort from Szabados and their penalty killers. Again Canada found themselves down two players, this time for 98 seconds, as Jayna Hefford and Becky Kellar both went off in succession for delay of game.
Agosta was named the tournament MVP and Szabados was named top goalie. Agosta, Szabados and Poulin were also named to the all-star team.
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