There isn’t any silver lining, solely a silver medal for Staff USA ladies’s hockey
The Olympic ladies’s ice hockey feud between the US and Canada has turn into one of the best rivalry within the sport as a result of their video games have depth, animosity and an unparalleled high quality of play. What they have not had is a way of inevitability: that one facet would conquer the opposite. That’s till Canada took the ice within the Beijing Olympics’ gold-medal recreation on Thursday and defeated the U.S. 3-2.
The hole between the groups had by no means been wider, from the sportsbooks to public notion.
And that is one thing that ought to actually give USA Hockey pause.
To recap the rivalry: This was the sixth assembly between the U.S. and Canada for Olympic ladies’s ice hockey gold for the reason that occasion was added in 1998. The People received twice (1998, 2018), whereas Canada has received gold 5 occasions — 4 occasions in opposition to the U.S. and in 2006 in opposition to Sweden, when the U.S. settled for bronze.
The People ended a run of 4 straight Canadian gold medals with their 3-2 shootout win on the 2018 PyeongChang Video games. It took a dramatic aim by Monique Lamoureux to tie the sport with 6:21 left in regulation; an much more dramatic aim from her twin sister, Jocelyn, within the shootout; and 29 saves from goalie Maddie Rooney plus 4 extra within the shootout to safe the win.
The Lamoureux twins retired after these Olympics. Gamers who competed in a number of Olympics, like Kacey Bellamy, Gigi Marvin and captain Meghan Duggan, additionally left the crew. Brianna Decker injured her leg within the People’ first recreation in Beijing and was misplaced for the match (she was pushed out on a cart to the silver-medal ceremony). Rooney performed in opposition to Canada within the 4-2 preliminary-round loss; Alex Cavallini acquired the beginning within the gold-medal recreation and gave up a delicate second aim to Marie-Philip Poulin to tip the scales to Canada within the first interval.
All of that is to say that whereas Staff USA returned 13 gamers from its 2018 gold-medal-winning crew, the roster had been drained of many key elements to that successful recipe, these depth gamers who allowed them to go toe-to-toe with the proficient Canadians in earlier editions of this feud.
They could not recreate the required chemistry. That was by no means extra evident than on the People’ feckless energy play, which could not get on the identical web page constantly for the higher a part of a 12 months in opposition to Canada in exhibition, world championship and Olympic play. They’d 5:12 of power-play time in opposition to the Canadians within the gold-medal recreation and transformed with solely 12.5 seconds left within the recreation and their goalie pulled.
Staff USA went 7-for-29 on its energy play in Beijing. Nevertheless it wasn’t what number of objectives it scored — it was when it did not rating when it wanted them.
There have been systemic issues with this crew. They have been apparent within the lead-up to the Olympics, when Canada received 4 of six video games within the “rivalry collection” exhibition. Coach Joel Johnson could not discover methods to deal with them.
Johnson actually did not permit his depth gamers the prospect to show themselves because the match wore on. The People had 10 gamers who performed greater than 20 minutes within the gold-medal recreation and 9 gamers who performed lower than 11 minutes. Defender Jincy Dunne, who had three assists within the match, did not see the ice within the gold-medal recreation or the semifinal win over Finland. Ahead Grace Zumwinkle, misused all through the match, performed 6:43.
“Each recreation presents completely different matchups. Each match presents completely different combos,” Johnson mentioned after the gold-medal loss. “As we went by means of the match, a few of the issues we have been making an attempt to do led us to sure line combos. Some individuals get additional ice. Some individuals did not get any. That was simply part of how we felt out strengths and weaknesses performed out finest.
“As a coach, you are at all times saying ‘shoulda, coulda, woulda’ in any scenario. Line combos and ice time are at all times one thing the place when you win, no person asks that query. When you do not win, all people’s acquired curious questions. I would not have completed it any in another way.”
Johnson shortened his bench in a manner that confirmed an absence of religion in his rank and file. Hilary Knight factored into three of the crew’s seven objectives up to now two video games, together with its lone aim till Amanda Kessel’s tally late within the third. Have been the People too reliant on their high gamers to the detriment of their depth, or was counting on their high gamers the one likelihood they’d at successful gold?
“I do not suppose we performed as much as our potential,” mentioned Knight.
Which brings us again to inevitability. The Canadians have been a steamroller, scoring an Olympic report 57 objectives within the match, whereas the People needed to work laborious to achieve the gold-medal recreation. It is a disparity that had been creeping into this rivalry over the previous 12 months — like when Canada snapped a streak of 5 American gold medals within the IIHF world championships with an extra time win in 2021, and like once they absorbed 53 pictures to win within the preliminary spherical.
— Olympic Hockey on NBC (@NBCSportsHockey) February 17, 2022
The most effective rivalries are ones fought on equal footing. Even when the People misplaced three straight gold-medal video games in opposition to Canada, there was a way they have been anybody’s video games to win. Like in 2002, when the People entered Salt Lake Metropolis with a 35-game successful streak and Canada entered with plain animosity. Like in 2010, when Poulin scored two objectives within the first interval and the Canadian held on to win in Vancouver. Like in 2014 — ugh, 2014 — when Poulin scored with 55 seconds left within the third interval to ship the sport to extra time the place she received it on a 4-on-3 power-play aim, after a phantom penalty on Knight.
However in 2022, the People skated into that recreation in opposition to Canada realizing the scales had tipped. They performed prefer it. They actually coached prefer it.
Canada’s Natalie Spooner had the quote of the match after the Canadians’ win over the U.S. in preliminaries: “Each time we go in in opposition to them, we wish to make a press release and present them that they do not belong on the ice with us.”
The gold-medal recreation in Beijing was the closest Canada has gotten on this rivalry to proving that idea. USA Hockey must do some soul looking on that.