BEIJING 2022 Canadian women's hockey Game 4: Canucks double rival Americans 4-2 to top Group A
Updated: Feb 15, 2022
BEIJING, China -- When the Canadian women’s soccer team won gold at last summer’s Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe was tagged across social media platforms as the country’s next “minister of defence.”
Fast forward to preliminary round Olympic Winter Games hockey action between Canada and the United States, and the holder of the informal title now has a new challenger in goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens of La Malbaie, Que.
In what is expected to be a preview of the gold medal game featuring the always fast and fierce North American rivals, Desbiens turned in an astounding 51-save performance to help guide Canada to a 4-2 victory late Monday night, allowing the defending world champions to clinch the top seed in Group A.
“As a goalie you just need to give your team an opportunity to win,” Desbiens told media after earning the impressive win for Canada's National Women's Team. “I know it might not have been the start we wanted as a team, but sometimes when your team needs you, you have to be there and that’s what I did today.”
Indeed, the subpar start that Desbiens referenced was perilously close to becoming Canada’s undoing in the first period. Plagued by disjointed play and sloppy turnovers, the Canadians spent most of the first period hemmed in their own end, under siege from the relentless American forecheck. Only the stellar netminding of Desbiens between the pipes kept the Americans off the scoresheet.
Despite the United States carrying most of the play in the opening frame, it was Canada who netted the icebreaker, on a power play. With American Caroline Harvey serving a cross-checking minor, Brianne Jenner of Oakville, Ont., converted a tic-tac-toe passing play, with captain Marie-Philip Poulin feeding Sarah Fillier stationed behind the goal line before Fillier set up Jenner in the slot for a one-timer past American goalie Maddie Rooney.
Canada led 1-0 after 20 minutes of play despite a deficit of 16-5 on the shot counter.
The United States continued to apply pressure in the second period and the dividends paid off. Near the midway mark, a group of tired Canadian defenders watched helplessly as Dani Cameranesi took a backhand pass from Cayla Barnes and capitalized on her own rebound for the equalizer.
Rolling from the momentum, the Americans scored again just 2:17 later. Towards the end of a United States powerplay, Amanda Kessel fed Alex Carpenter on an odd-player rush, and Carpenter lifted a backhander into the top shelf to give her team the lead. The euphoria was short-lived for the red, white and blue.
It took all of 26 seconds for Canada to square off the affair. Jenner netted her second of the game after she eluded the backchecking of Kelly Pannek and capitalized on a pass from Sarah Nurse for her fifth goal of the tournament.
The tide then shifted in Canada’s favour. Just two minutes and 25 seconds after Jenner’s equalizer, Jamie Lee Rattray of Kanata, Ont. found herself unguarded at the edge of the crease. Meanwhile, forward Natalie Spooner of Scarborough, Ont., completed a half-circle from behind the net, attempted a backhander that was kicked out by Rooney, only to have Rattray pounce on the rebound for the go-ahead marker.
But the highlight of the game came off the stick of – who else – Canada’s captain, Marie-Philip Poulin of Beauceville, Que. On a penalty kill, Poulin – the indisputable queen of clutch goals – intercepted a pass in the defensive zone and proceed to wheel the length of the ice, goading defender Barnes into a hook.
Although the infraction didn’t negate a scoring a chance, Poulin was awarded a penalty shot, a generous call that went in Canada’s favour and provided the momentum for them to carry that momentum on the ice and the psychological advantage going into playoff action.
Avenging the shootout attempt four years earlier, in which Rooney foiled Poulin for a potential game-winner, Captain Canada’sped down the left wing, then froze the goalie for a split-second with a fake move towards the middle before firing a shot, low to the blocker side into the cage.
With Canada preserving a two-goal lead heading into the second intermission, Desbiens carried her team the rest of the way. Further cementing her status as top goaltender on the roster, Desbiens made a sparkling 21 saves in the third period en route to the 4-2 victory over Canada's biggest rivals in the world and a perfect 4-0-0 record for her team in the preliminary round.
“We know we didn’t play our best game,” coach Troy Ryan to reporters following the legendary face-off between two of the world's most competitive rivals in all of sport."
“It’s great that we were able to win," Ryan told reporters on site in Beijing after the game, "but we have to go back to the drawing board and look at some of the areas we can improve, in particular our puck management. (We will have to) just tighten up a bit and make some adjustments moving forward.”
* With notes from Kristen Lipscombe.
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