The drought Is over.
A streak of five consecutive IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships, dating back to 2013, that have ended in heartbreak after heartbreak for Canada was gleefully snapped by none other than Captain Canada herself Marie-Philip Poulin in overtime, sealing a 3-2 win - and a much sought-over sparkling trophy - for her team over the red and white's archrival United States.
“Captain Clutch” snapped a wrist shot over the shoulder of American goalie Nicole Hensley at 7:22 of the extra period, once again cementing her legacy of scoring important goals in not just the women's game’s most crucial moments - but the entire game of hockey.
“It was pretty exciting, to be honest,” Poulin said following the win. “I kind of knew a little bit it was in, but I never knew until the buzzer happened, but it’s just a great feeling, to be honest. When that buzzer happened in the middle of the play, to be honest, we didn’t know how to react. We jumped on the ice; we jumped on each other.”
Indeed, Poulin’s goal was acknowledged, then celebrated, rather unconventionally. Although Poulin raised her arms ecstatically after firing the shot, play was allowed to continue for about another half-minute before replay officials confirmed the goal. The puck had rebounded out of the net so quickly that no one else other than “Pou” and perhaps a few other players had seen the puck cross the red line.
Hockey fans with long memories had a deja vu moment from 2010, when Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrated his Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal before any of his teammates did.
Brianne Jenner, who found Poulin streaking down the middle of the ice with a pass to set up the winning tally, had a one-goal, two-assist night. “You see 29 open and you’ve just got to put the puck on her stick, and she does the rest,” she said post-win.
But the gold medal game did not start well for the Canadians. Despite sustaining early pressure after the opening face-off, Canada’s snipers were stifled by Hensley, and the United States found the scoreboard first. Alex Carpenter potted her own rebound at the side of the net, midway through the first period, to break the ice.
Carpenter, playing with a chip on her shoulder after being left off the 2018 U.S. Olympic roster, extended her goal-scoring streak to three games in the process. She extended her team’s lead to 2-0 on an American power-play, just over two and a half minutes later, finding a loose puck atop the crease after Canada’s goalie Ann Renee Desbiens surrendered a big rebound.
It took until 4:13 of the second frame for the Canadian’s to solve Hensley. With Brianna Decker in the penalty box for delay of game, worlds rookie Sarah Fillier’s shot from near the hash marks got through traffic, and Poulin got a stick on the puck before Jenner finally converted, going backhand to forehand to finish the play.
Two minutes, 29 seconds later on another Canada power-play, veteran defender Jocelyne Larocque unleashed a point shot that was deflected by Jamie Lee Rattray for the equalizer, much to the delight of her teammates, and the Canadian family members who were cleared to attend the game inside Calgary’s WinSport Arena, in the heart of Canada Olympic Park (COP).
The highly intense third period saw Desbiens and Hensley engage in a flawless goaltending duel. Rattray had the game on her stick in the dying moments of regulation, clanking the puck off the post behind Hensley to come within an inch of a game-winner.
The three-on-three overtime was a dynamic, free-flowing affair that culminated with Poulin’s heroic goal.
Poulin, who claimed her first world championship title as team captain with this win, simply added to her stockpile of clutch performances that had already included scoring the only goals in a 2-0 victory at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, then – for an encore – netting the game-tying, and (what else?) overtime winner, to defend Canada’s title at Sochi 2014. Both Winter Games victories came at the expense of none other than the Americans.
“She just finds a way to step it up in big games,” Team Canada head coach Troy Ryan said. “When she had that puck streaking through the middle, who else do you want to have the puck on their stick than Poulin? It’s amazing how many big goals she’s scored for Canada over her career, so we’re just glad she’s on our side.”
With the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing just five months away, Canada has regained some of the momentum back from its cross-border rivalry with the United States after playing second fiddle for nine years at the women's worlds (or even third fiddle, as was the case in the bronze medal year of 2019).
This will be Poulin’s fourth Winter Games appearance, providing another opportunity to further pad her future Hall of Fame resume.
Another great Canadian moment came during the red and white's post-win celebration, although it also ended in a serious injury for Nova Scotia native and consistent forward Blayre Turnbull. The 28-year-old hurt her leg after falling to the bottom of the "celly" dogpile, and was helped off the ice by teammates and team staff. But she re-emerged onto the ice while sitting upon a stretcher, her gold medal around her neck, and a big grin on her face. And that's despite, as was later medically determined, that the 2022 Olympic prospect will be out for six-to-eight weeks while her broken fibula heals. Fans and supporters, including the OFFSIDE Team, are sending out good vibes on Turnbull's road to recovery.
Nevertheless, this year's women's worlds was particularly special for Team Canada, having ended their nine-year women's worlds drought just in time for their next big face-off at the Olympic Winter Games, but it also held special meaning for Turnbull and 29-year-old forward Jillian Saulnier, who as proud Nova Scotians were ready for their home province to play host to women's worlds in both 2020 and earlier this year in 2021, before both the original and rescheduled tournaments being suddenly but understandably cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although putting your bets on either Canada or the U.S. heading into the Olympics could go either way, as is always the case with these two passionate teams - serious foes on the ice but friends helping grow the female game off the ice - for now Canada is fully entitled to cherish every moment of its long-waited women's world celebration.
* With notes from Kristen Lipscombe