BRAMPTON, Ont. -- The gold medal game of the 2023 IIHF Women’s World Championship between Canada and the United States appeared destined for overtime. An extra frame, of course, is often standard when these two women's hockey powerhouse rivals hit the ice.
But not this year in Brampton. Not on the evening of Friday, April 16, when American captain Hilary Knight took over, and took control of the game.
Knight, already having registered a goal in a 3-3 deadlock late in regulation, netted not one but two power-play goals within a span of 27 seconds to strike a dagger into the hearts of Team Canada and its rink full of home crowd fans. An empty-net goal rounded out the scoring in a 6-3 U.S. win, much to the disappointment of the overwhelming majority of the 4,635 spectators at CAA Centre.
“We have so many leaders in this room, people who have been here for years and years,” Knight said to reporters after the game, a gold medal proudly hanging from her neck. “I think that’s what’s so special about this collection of players.”
Ultimately, a five-on-three power play advantage for the U.S. was Canada’s undoing, but early in the game it was the home side that struck first, after the Americans took two straight penalties.
Forward Marie-Philip Poulin, no stranger to scoring timely goals for Canada, had the icebreaker at 6:23 of the first period, firing a one-timer from the face-off circle past American goalie Aerin Frankel.
Late in the opening frame, Abbey Murphy of Team USA got the equalizer, off the rush, toe-dragging the puck, which caused defender Erin Ambrose to overcommit. Murphy was then able to successfully beat netminder Ann-Renee Desbiens on the glove side.
The game tilted in Canada’s favour in the second period, as both teams combined for three goals in a span of four minutes and 36 seconds, with two of them coming off the stick of forward Brianne Jenner of Oakville, Ont., the Most Valuable Player at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. At the 5:03 mark, Jenner took a pass from Renata Fast and wired a shot through a maze of players that made its way into the goal.
Knight responded for the U.S., receiving a pass from Amanda Kessel leading the rush, then outmaneuvering Blayre Turnbull of Stellarton, N.S., at the side of the Canadian net before sliding a rebound off her own initial shot past Desbiens.
Not to be outdone, Jenner got her second goal of the game with a deflection off a Fast shot, just before the midway mark of regulation.
The wheels fell off for Canada, however, over the final 20 minutes of gold medal play. At the 5:40 mark of the third period, defender Caroline Harvey carried the puck from inside the left point, then unleashed a shot that found its way through traffic to equal the score once again, setting the stage for Knight’s heroics.
With just over five minutes left in what looked like a game to be eventually decided by a single goal, Jenner was whistled for tripping. Canada’s penalty killers kept their opponents at bay for over a minute, but then Claire Thompson was called for delay of game, with the puck sent over glass.
By then, the mountainous gap on the scoreboard was too high to climb for the Canadians. Knight scored with just seven seconds left in Canada’s first penalty, her 100th career point in her storied history competing in women's worlds events. She then all but sealed the game with her hat trick goal at the 17:17 mark of the final frame.
Cayla Barnes’s empty net goal with under two minutes remaining rubbed salt in Canada’s wound.
“Without (Aerin) Frankel there in the second period, it could have opened up,” American coach John Wroblewski said after the gold medal match-up. “We were fortunate to hold them off. Credit to Frankel. And Hilary Knight, the captain, she’s just the heart and soul of the team right now."
Jenner did her best to hide her disappointment. “I have no doubt that we’re going to head into this off-season and do what you do when you get a silver medal; look in the mirror. And we do the same when we win gold,” she said.
“Our process may change. We’re gonna look at how we can be better for next year, but you know, it’s not a locker room that’s going to be pointing fingers at all. We win together and we’ll lose together.”
Sarah Fillier was named as the MVP of the tournament and was one of three forwards to be named to the All-Star Team along with teammate Poulin, and Petra Nieminen of Finland. The defenders were Canada’s Renata Fast and Caroline Harvey of the United States. Emma Soderstrom of Sweden got the nod in the goaltender position.
The 2023 women's worlds win marks the 10th all-time victory for the Americans at this tournament. They trail the Canadians by two on the women's worlds leaderboard.