From IIHF News@1:266/404 to All on Thu Feb 22 01:04:51 2018
A U.S.-Canada women's gold medal game is always an epic battle. Three of our correspondents in Korea sat down to discuss Thursday's Olympic final.
Altogether, Lucas Aykroyd, Andrew Podnieks, and Andy Potts have covered a combined 12 Olympic women's hockey tournaments, nine IIHF Women's World Championships, and four U18 Women's World Championships. The individual opinions expressed below do not necessarily reflect the official views of the IIHF.
What has impressed you most about both the American and Canadian teams?
Podnieks: Both teams continue to set the bar high. When you watch the other teams play, it's a good level of women's hockey. When you watch the North Americans, it's exceptional, both for skill and intensity. The players are simply faster and better in every way, and it makes you appreciate just how much better they are than the rest.
Aykroyd: No team moves the puck better on the power play than the Americans when they're on. They got it going on their last three goals versus Finland: Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson's big one-timer, Hilary Knight's subtle tip, and Dani Cameranesi's tic-tac-toe finish. For Canada, how about that goaltending with two goals allowed in four games? Genevieve Lacasse stood on her head against the Americans in the 2-1 round-robin win, and we all know what Shannon Szabados can do as the winning goalie in the last two Olympic finals.
What do you see as a potential Achilles' heel for both sides?
Aykroyd: For both sides, it's mental. The Americans must overcome their block about winning the Olympic final. They've fallen short in a different way in each of the last three gold medal games against Canada: not capitalizing on eight straight power plays in 2002, getting shut out in 2010, surrendering a late lead in 2014. It's similar to the San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Their talent is unquestioned; now it's about their
ability to deliver under the brightest spotlight. Despite being the four-time defending Olympic champions, Canada generally does a good job of avoiding overconfidence, but that does sometimes stumble Canadian teams who get too caught up in the notion that "hockey is our birthright." Of course, there's no reason for them to get cocky after losing the last four Women's Worlds to the States.
Potts: The group stage game didn't give us many answers: both teams could plausibly argue it backs their case. For the USA, it's hard to imagine another goaltending performance like Lacasse's - or another four shots off the piping without going in. For Canada, winning in a game where it was outplayed can reinforce the belief that the Olympics is its lucky tournament, breeding either
confidence or complacency, depending on your point of view.
Who is a player you'll be watching closely on each team?
Podnieks: The best players have to be the best players, so how can you not watch Marie-Philip Poulin? She scored the winning goals in 2010 and 2014, is the captain, and is playing just as well this year. For the U.S., as Kendall Coyne goes, so goes the team. She may be small but she might well be the best player in the world right now.
Potts: For Canada, Melodie Daoust, recalled to the team after a long post-Sochi
hiatus and making a big scoring contribution here. It's the kind of narrative that makes the Games compelling, so she pips Poulin - always a go-to player for
a clutch play - on my hit list. For the USA, it feels like we're trying to identify that potential Poulin equivalent, the woman who can deliver the big, big goal when it's needed. While the likes of Dani Cameranesi and Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson are leading the American scoring, it's hard to shake the feeling that an old hand, a Hilary Knight or an Amanda Kessel, might be the one
to lift the Olympic curse.
What is your prediction?
Aykroyd: The Americans were the better team in terms of puck possession and chances generated in that round-robin loss to Canada. They've found a way at the last four Women's Worlds. They're overdue at the Olympics. My head says 3-2
U.S. But as Sochi showed, you can never, ever count out Canada, and it could just as easily go the other way.
Potts: Would I place a bet on the outcome of this game? No. There are persuasive arguments in favor of both teams, and it's fair to assume we'll see another tight encounter, probably settled by one goal. I'd take the USA to sneak it this time: that run of World Championship wins maybe means Canada no longer gets inside U.S. heads in quite the same way, and the group stage game here felt like a bit of a steal for the Canadians. If the USA recreates a similar level of offence in the final, it's hard to imagine a second goaltending masterclass saving the Canadians again.
Podnieks: The score? I'll say 3-2. The team? I'm not so sure about that. I have
a better feeling about Canada this year than in 2014 (when they won), but the Americans are just so dangerous when they're on their game. Yes, that's right -
that's me, sitting on the fence.
What's the potential ripple effect from this gold medal game for women's hockey
Aykroyd: Gold is the only medal that really registers in the American consciousness. If they win, you'll not only see the U.S. women on the late-night talk show circuit and Wheaties boxes, but also a massive uptick in hockey registration among girls and women across the U.S. - and a commensurate investment. It'll be a new "Miracle on Ice" for the smartphone and Wonder Woman
generation. Given the number of Canadian and European players in U.S. college hockey, the effects will transcend America's borders. A fifth straight Canadian
gold would be special, too. It would reinforce the classic Hockey Canada slogan, "It's Our Game." Would it resonate as much outside Canada? Probably not. But it would in all likelihood model what other national women's programs are striving for: the mental toughness and unwillingness to take shortcuts that
still make Canada the hockey nation to beat.
Potts: There's a slight frustration that, at the end of another Olympic cycle, we're still looking for a team that can close the gap on these two. Having a viable gold-medal contender from outside of North America feels like the moment
when a ripple might become a wave of global interest, but we're some way from seeing that happen. That said, bringing the two best teams in the world to another showcase game can only help to persuade more people that women's hockey
is well worth the effort.
Podnieks: Any time these teams play at the Olympics for gold, they maximize promoting the game. Hopefully, young girls in countries all around the world will be inspired to play. That's all anyone can hope for. That and a great game, of course.