By Bill Brophy for WCHA.com
The world got to see what the best in women's hockey looks like Thursday as Canada and the United States renewed their long-time rivalry at the 2018 Winter Olympics. The game was intense, physical, fast-paced and exciting. It featured a penalty shot, a dispute about whether the eventual game-winning goal by Sarah Nurse was onside and a goal-mouth scramble at the end of the nail-biter that had to be reviewed by officials before the final outcome was known.
The final score was Team Canada 2, Team USA 1. The significance in the pairings for the 2018 Games is that Canada will be the top seed when the semifinals start Monday in Pyeongchang, South Korea and will play either Switzerland or the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR). The United States will play either Finland or Sweden in the semifinals.
The gold medal game is set for Feb. 22 and most observers think it will be Canada vs. USA again.
"It's a rivalry,'' U.S. coach Robb Stauber said after the team's final game in Pool A Thursday. "What else would anybody expect?''
Canada has won the last four goal medals at the Olympics. The United States hasn't won gold in 20, but has been the world champion the last four years.
The Valentine's Day showdown featured many Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) alumnae from the past ten years – and some current players – in key roles. There are 14 former and current WCHA players on Team USA and another nine current players and/or WCHA alumnae on Team Canada.
After a scoreless first period, Canada took a 2-0 lead in the second period against Team USA and goalie Maddie Rooney, who was the WCHA Final Faceoff hero for Minnesota Duluth last season. Natalie Spooner, a former Ohio State standout playing in her 100th international game, set up Meghan Acosta for Canada's first goal and Nurse, who helped lead Wisconsin to its second of three-straight WCHA regular season titles (and its third-straight Final Faceoff crown) last season, made it 2-0 with a perfect shot past Rooney. Replays showed Nurse's first Olympic goal may have been offside, but Stauber did not challenge the play.
A save by Canadian goalie Genevieve Lacasse on former North Dakota star Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson's penalty shot late in the second period gave Canada a two-goal cushion, heading into the third period.
After a nifty play by former Wisconsin all-American Brianna Decker, a former Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner, freed speedy Kendall Coyne to race past the defense and beat Lacasse in the first seconds of the third period, the U.S. was within a goal. However, Lacasse, the third goalie coach Laura Schuler has used in the tournament, made many of the most spectacular of her 44 saves in the final period and, in the final seconds, Decker hit the post for the second time.
The United States held a 45-23 edge in shots on goal, but Canada has won the last five games with Team USA after the Americans won the first three in the pre-Olympics matchups.
Here are some recaps of the latest chapter in the rivalry:
In the other Pool A game, the final preliminary game of the tournament, Finland used two goals by former North Dakota star Michelle Karvinen and one from Ohio State alumnae Minnamari Tuominen to beat OAR 5-1. Finnish goalie Noora Räty, the former Minnesota all-American, made 24 saves. A recap is here:
The women's teams are idle until the quarterfinal round, which begins Friday at 9:10 p.m. (CST) when Switzerland, the unbeaten team out of Pool B, faces OAR, which lost all three games in Pool A. Finland (1-2-0) meets Sweden (2-1-0) in the other quarterfinal at 1:40 a.m. Saturday.
Japan and Korea will be joined by the quarterfinal losers in the classification round in a playdown to determine places 5-8 in this year's tournament.
The standings for Pool A and Pool B are here: http://pyeongchang2018.iihf.hockey/women/
The semifinal schedule has yet to be announced. Semifinal games are scheduled for Sunday night at 10:10 CST and Monday morning at 6:10 a.m. A schedule of all the women's hockey games at the 2018 Games is here: https://www.olympic.org/pyeongchang-2018/results/en/ice-hockey/daily-schedule.html
Switzerland's Alina Muller is the top scorer from the preliminary round of the tournament with 9 points (6 goals, 3 assists) and her teammate Christine Meier has six (0-6). Former Minnesota Duluth star Lara Stalder (2 goals, 3 assists) and her Swiss teammate Sara Benz (2-3) have five points apiece. Lamoureux-Davidson is Team USA's top scorer with three points (2-1), tying her with UMD alumna Pernilla Winberg of Sweden (2-1). Among other WCHA alumnae in the tournament, Decker has two points with two assists and Karvinen has two points with her two goals Thursday. Nurse, Tuominen, Sweden's Johanna Fällman, Canada's Haley Irwin, and USA's Monique Lamoureux-Morando, Gigi Marvin, Hannah Brandt and Dani Cameranesi have each scored one goal. Canada's Jocelyn Larocque and Brigette Lacquette and the United States' Meghan Duggan and Hilary Knight each have an assist in the first games, while Rooney and Ann-Renée Desbiens of Canada (a shutout) have posted goaltending victories.
NBC will broadcast and stream the games live. Erika Lawler, a former U.S. Olympian who played at Wisconsin, and Tessa Bonhomme, the former Ohio State all-American who won a gold medal for Team Canada, are part of NBC's coverage.
There are 37 current and former WCHA stars who are competing the Winter Games. Sarah Murray, a former athlete at Minnesota Duluth, is the coach of the historic Korean team.
Team USA includes 14 former and current WCHA players. Team Canada includes nine former and current WCHA players, while Team Finland has seven, Team Sweden features five WCHA alumnae and Team Switzerland has two players with WCHA ties.
Here is the breakdown of WCHA players on the rosters.
* -- denotes that player has eligibility remaining
Goaltenders (2): Alex Rigsby, Wisconsin; *Maddie Rooney, Minnesota Duluth
Defense (4): Monique Lamoureux-Morando, North Dakota; Gigi Marvin, Minnesota; Lee Stecklein, Minnesota; Sidney Morin, Minnesota Duluth
Forwards (8): Hannah Brandt, Minnesota; Dani Cameranesi, Minnesota; Brianna Decker, Wisconsin; Meghan Duggan, Wisconsin; Amanda Kessel, Minnesota Hilary Knight, Wisconsin; Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, North Dakota; *Kelly Pannek, Minnesota
Goaltender (1): Ann-Renée Desbiens, Wisconsin
Defense (3): Brigette Lacquette, Minnesota Duluth; Jocelyne Larocque, Minnesota Duluth; Meaghan Mikkelson, Wisconsin
Forwards (5): *Emily Clark, Wisconsin; Haley Irwin, Minnesota Duluth; Sarah Nurse, Wisconsin; Natalie Spooner, Ohio State; Blayre Turnbull, Wisconsin
Goalie (2): Noora Räty, Minnesota; Eveliina Suonpää, Minnesota Duluth
Defense (1): Mira Jalosuo, Minnesota
Forwards (4): Michelle Karvinen, North Dakota; Susanna Tapani, North Dakota; Emma Nuutinen, North Dakota; Minnamari Tuominen, Ohio State
Defense (3): Johanna Fallman, North Dakota; Emilia Andersson Ramboldt, Minnesota State; Annie Svedin, Ohio State
Forwards (2): Maria Lindh, Minnesota Duluth; Pernilla Winberg, Minnesota Duluth
Goalie (1): *Janine Alder, St. Cloud State
Forwards (1): Lara Stalder, Minnesota Duluth