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Canada picked good time to end losing skid to Team USA

Posted: Thursday February 21, 2002 10:03 PM
Updated: Friday February 22, 2002 12:18 AM

 

After losing in 1998 to Team USA, everything since then had pointed to this moment for Team Canada. Forget World Championships. Forget the eight straight losses to the Americans in pre-Olympic competition. For Canada, this was all about securing the only thing that had eluded them -- Olympic gold.

Four years of waiting were unleashed in the game’s early-going. Canada opened with an offensive onslaught that yielded the first goal in the second minute. Canada's forecheck forced Team USA into taking two penalties. Canada couldn’t stretch its lead, with goaltender Sara DeCosta making several sparkling saves. But Canada had their momentum jettisoned by four straight penalties. It survived, including a 5-on-3 sequence of nearly one minute, but Team USA now controlled the tempo.

The main reason the U.S. and Canada are so far ahead of all other countries in women’s hockey -- but only about even with the other men’s powerhouses -- is that they’ve got funding for the women. Nations like Finland and Sweden never get dough like that.

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    The second shift of the second period saw Canada whistled for its fifth straight penalty. Team USA quickly capitalized on a beautiful deflection by Katie King. Moments later, though, Canada replied, with the best player in the world, Hayley Wickenheiser, ripping a rebound past a prone DeCosta.

    The rest of the period was an uneven affair, as Team Canada spent most of the stanza in its zone and in the penalty box. The few calls that American referee whistled against Team USA also fell into the questionable category. The women’s game permits contact but not bodychecking. That distinction was seemingly beyond the grasp of the referee. A game of this magnitude requires a less-is-more mentality on the referee’s part. This game received exactly the opposite treatment and suffered because of it.

    Speaking of suffering, the Canadians victimized Team USA with a long lead pass and a breakaway finish by Jayna Hefford -- with one second remaining in the second period. Talk about devastating.

    After all of those power plays -- usually a Team USA strength -- and despite the territorial advantage, the Americans found themselves down by two goals with 20 minutes remaining.

    The third period saw more of the same -- dismal game-calling and unbelievable penalty killing by the Canadians. Their ability to keep the puck on the perimeter was central to their victory. Conversely, Team USA converted roughly once every four power play opportunities in beating Canada eight previous times. On this night, the power play went 2-for-11, clicking with three and a half minutes remaining, to draw within a goal. But, in a game without any flow because of the unrelenting penalty parade, the inability to generate offense at even strength off the puck possession established on the power play was costly -- the difference between gold and silver.

    The ensuing action after the U.S. cut the deficit to one proved how good this game could have been, with intensity, passion and pace. Still, as was the case from the opening face-off, Team Canada was by far the better team at even strength. Good as gold.

    Darren Eliot, a former NHL goaltender, is a hockey analyst for CNN/Sports Illustrated and will provide Olympic hockey commentary throughout the Games for CNNSI.com.


     
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