Chippy play sets tone in women's final
BURLINGTON, Vt. -- The old joke goes that there once was a fight, and a hockey game broke out.
Some might laugh and then correlate the punch line to the rough-and-tumble NHL. But the reality is Saturday's IIHF Women's World Championship game between the United States and Canada delivered every sort of hack, whack and shove of physical play, just short of a full-on fight.
This was a showdown of the dark-alley variety, a reflection of how much dislike, skill and size these teams possess.
Canada won 5-4 in overtime in front of a sold-out crowd of 4,007 at Gutterson Fieldhouse on the University of Vermont's campus. This was the first time since 2007 that Canada won worlds, breaking Team USA's streak of three straight titles.
The Canadians skated away exhilarated with the dramatic win, while the Americans looked disgusted with their silver medals. It was a seesaw game, with the Americans coming back after trailing 3-1 in the second period. Canada tied the game with less than 90 seconds remaining in regulation and then quickly sealed the victory in overtime.
Both teams weren't particularly surprised the game was such a grinding, physical and sometimes dirty affair. Canadian coach Dan Church said he wanted his team to play with "skill and sandpaper," and both were on display.
Team Canada, which was blown out 9-2 by the U.S. in the opening game of the tournament, admitted its strategy was to play aggressively to slow the Americans down and break up plays.
"We were really sick of silver, you know," said Canadian forward Caroline Ouellette, who had two goals, including the game winner at 1:50 in overtime. "We tried to put a lot of pressure on them and really be physical. [We're] a tough team to play against, and you will feel you have less time because Team Canada is coming after you."
Aggression tends to manifest into chippy play because there is no fighting in international hockey and checking isn't allowed in the women's game. And the evidence was everywhere: Both goalies were poked at and run into; hard collisions happened at mid-ice, sending bodies flying; and elbows and shoves usually went both ways after the whistle.
Ouellette wasn't happy Canada gave up three power-play goals and took 11 penalties, including three for roughing. The Americans had seven penalties, two for roughing.
"It's physical when we play the U.S, and they like to play that way, too," Ouellette said. "It's tough in women's hockey because you never know what's going to fly and what's going to be called. Sometimes we weren't sure if things would get called. ... We were undisciplined, and they got three power-play goals. Five-on-five, I'd like to think we were the better team tonight."
These two teams are very familiar with each other -- they've met in the past 14 World Championship title games and three of the past four Olympic gold-medal rounds. They've grown up playing each other as kids, and many ended up as teammates or opponents on NCAA teams. The familiarity breeds some edginess, sometimes boiling over into contempt on the ice.
U.S. forward Kelli Stack expected the game to be tough but admitted it got more aggressive than she anticipated.
"It was really rough out there, but to me, this is always how it goes with our games," Stack said. "We're all getting stronger, faster, and it's hockey, so I think that's going to happen. But definitely, for us, our games against Canada will always be the most physical. You give as good as you get out there. You never, ever have your head down at mid-ice because you can get creamed. You watch yourself in the corners, because stuff happens there, too. We're not going to back down, and neither will they."
U.S. defenseman Kacey Bellamy and Canadian forward Jennifer Wakefield are friends off the ice, but during Saturday's final, they got into a heated pushing and shoving exchange, coming close to blows after the whistle. The referees separated them and gave both matching minors for roughing in the second period.
"I think there is such a great rivalry there, there's intensity, there is competition, that's the nature of the game," Team Canada captain and veteran forward Hayley Wickenheiser said. "It's emotional out there. There was nothing overly dirty about the plays, just a lot of hard-fought hockey in front of the net. Sometimes, you might give a little extra love to say, 'Hey, next time you try to get to our goalie, you're going to think twice.'
"They did it; we did it, too. I think it's a credit to our girls that we needed to play with that edge, and we did. We wanted to take control."