In a result that shocked no one, both the United States and Canada won their semifinal matches to advance to the gold medal hockey game at the 2018 Winter Olympics. This is the third straight year in a row, and fifth time overall, that the two women’s hockey teams will face each other for the Olympics’ top prize.
We got a taste of the USA vs. Canada matchup to come, as the two teams played in the final preliminary game of the tournament. Canada won a close-fought 2-1 game against the United States, despite Team USA outshooting their rivals 45-23. While that match was nothing more than a tune-up, pride was still very much on the line for the two countries.
Now, they’ll have the chance to showcase it once more on Wednesday. The Americans will have to be at their best to best Canada, and here are a handful of things Team USA needs to do to win on Wednesday.
Continue the solid special teams play from the semifinals
After Team USA’s loss to Canada in the preliminary round, we mentioned that in order to get back to the gold medal match, the team would need to be more disciplined. In their 5-0 win against Finland, not only did the United States cut back on penalties — as they had just six penalty minutes against — the team’s power play also caught fire.
The Americans had just one power play goal through the first three games coming into Sunday night’s match. In the semifinal, Team USA posted three power play goals en route to a runaway victory, including scoring twice on a 5-on-3, then 5-on-4, opportunity in the second period.
Overall, the power play looked crisper for Team USA, as they buried their chances with ease. Finland didn’t aggress the United States with the disadvantage much like Canada did in the preliminaries, leading to seemingly endless chances on the power play like this one from Jocelyne Lamoureux after sustained pressure.
The ambient temperature in my room all the way in Boston went up just from watching Lamoureux's shot pic.twitter.com/2rfHzpNQol— thrace (@thrace) February 19, 2018
The United States didn’t have the best special teams game on Sunday, as they gave Finland two huge power play opportunities to get back into the game after going up 1-0 early in the first. While they were able to keep Finland from getting any significant chances, giving Canada too many power plays to work with is unwise in the gold medal match.
It’s now or never for Team USA’s biggest names
Hilary Knight is one of Team USA’s biggest — and most recognizable — stars, but it took until the semifinals for her to net her first goal of the tournament. While the United States has rolled through this tournament, it’s been on the backs of the team’s depth.
In total, Knight has just two points in this tournament, alongside big names like Amanda Kessel (1 point) and Meghan Duggan (2 points). Team USA’s veterans have yet to make a major impact in this tournament, and they’ve only got one more game to break out and steal the show.
That being said, help has come from seasoned Olympians Lamoureux and Kendall Coyne, alongside newcomer Dani Cameranesi. So far, the team has gotten by with the offensive production they’ve had, but it’s not too much to ask for their best with a gold medal on the line.
The goals are there for the United States to make an impact, but if Wednesday’s game is anything like the preliminary match, Team USA will need all the scoring they can to best a Canadian team that has had their number at the Olympics.
To win the game, Team USA must win the goaltending battle
It’s fair to say that allowing the fewest amount of goals is pretty much the first step to victory in any hockey game. However, the U.S. will likely be rolling with 20-year-old, and Olympic first-timer, Maddie Rooney in net against veteran Canadian netminder Shannon Szabados.
Rooney has done extremely well in her three games played for Team USA thus far, as she’s allowed just three goals in 180 minutes of play. She did have a bit of trouble tracking Canada’s game-winning goal in the second period, where she got beat cleaning by a shot high on her glove side, but overall has been solid.
On the other end, however, the United States will likely face two-time Olympic gold medal winner Szabados, who has been a persistent thorn in Team USA’s side for years. Szabados played just one game heading into the gold medal match, Canada’s 5-0 semifinal win over the Russians, but will very likely get the call on Wednesday due to the team’s past success with her in net.
Canada has also has Geneviève Lacasse, who stonewalled the U.S. in the preliminaries, and Ann-Renée Desbiens as possibilities should the stars not align for Szabados.
No matter which goaltender Canada goes with, however, the U.S. must win the goaltender battle to win gold. They didn’t in the preliminary game against their rival, but Wednesday is where it will count.