Updated at 12:35 a.m. ET
The U.S. women’s hockey team has their hands full in trying to break Canada’s grip on the gold medal at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Facing their archrival, the U.S. struck first, late in the first period, and Canada tied it early in the second — and went ahead minutes later. After two periods, the score was 2-1.
The game began at 11:10 ET, Wednesday night. We’re updating this post with news from Gangneung Hockey Arena.
The first goal came on a laser shot by Hilary Knight. The U.S. brought the puck out from behind goal, and Knight worked her way up to the left faceoff circle before unleashing a low hard shot that glanced off a Canadian player and eluded Lacasse. It bounced inside off the far side of the netting and landed as the U.S. crowd erupted.
Canada’s Haley Irwin equalized the score minutes into the second period, putting away a breakaway that brought loud cheers from the Canadians’ fans.
Marie-Philip Poulin gave Canada the lead minutes later, scoring in a rush on the American goal. It was quick redemption for Poulin, who had emerged from the penalty box moments earlier. The score came with 13:05 left in the second period.
Knight nearly leveled the score with a hard and long shot from the right flank — but the puck was deflected and caught by Canada’s goalie, Genevieve Lacasse.
Canada had a chance to build a 3-1 lead moments later, after U.S. player Sidney Morin was penalized for an illegal hit. The Canadians worked the puck down around the goal, setting up a frenzy of shots and blocks — and the Americans managed to escape with the score intact.
The U.S. strategy, as preached by coach Robb Stauber, is to pound the goal with shots. The Americans did that from the start and finished the first two periods with a 22-16 lead in shots on goal.
The Americans got a power play opportunity nearly midway through the first period, but they were not able to convert it into a score. That came after Canada’s Jennifer Wakefield lowered her shoulder to level American Dani Cameranesi along the boards – a sign that this would indeed be a physical matchup. Wakefield was put in the penalty box for an illegal hit.
As happens between two rivals who know each other all too well, there were chippy moments. Away from the action late in the first period, Sarah Nurse slashed her stick down hard in the open ice, knocking the stick out of her U.S. opponent’s hands. The sizeable Canadian fanbase in attendance booed in protest as Nurse was put in the penalty box.
In the preliminary games before the start of the elimination round, Canada beat the U.S., 2-0 — despite the Americans firing more shots on goal, 45-23. That game was a very physical clash, including a scrum around the Canadian goal that took two referees to break up; before it was over, one of Canada’s players had lost her helmet.
In a bit of good news for the U.S. team, its star forward Hilary Knight broke her scoring drought at these Olympics in the semifinal against Finland that put them into this gold-medal match. But the U.S. will have to contend with Canada’s Meghan Agosta, who has 17 career goals at the Winter Games – second all-time. Agosta has won three gold medals.
The American women won the very first Olympic hockey tournament, in 1998. But that was 20 years ago. Since then, Canada has won every time. And often, it’s been at the Americans’ expense: today marks the fifth time the U.S. and Canada have met to decide who gets gold and who gets silver.
The U.S. women have had great success in the World Championships during Canada’s run in the Olympics. But the Americans suffered a heartbreaker in Sochi in 2014, when Canada won the gold medal match in overtime.
Players on both teams say things are different now, and that they’re hungry to win the title. They’re also saying this game will be intense and physical.
The U.S. and Canada are the only two teams to have ever won an Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey. And while the start time in the U.S. falls on Wednesday night, this year’s title game is taking place on Feb. 22 in South Korea — 38 years after the “Miracle on Ice” of 1980, when the U.S. men’s team upset the Soviet Union.
Canada’s streak of four consecutive team gold medals is second among all Olympic women’s events, trailing only the U.S. women’s basketball team, who have won six in a row (so far).