CHICAGO – Tonight all the marbles are on the line as the Americans and Canadians play yet again in a gold-medal game in hockey. This time, it’s the WW U18 Championship being held at the Seven Bridges Ice Arena just outside Chicago, and the storyline is similar to so many between these great rivals.
On the U.S. side, it has won the first two editions of the tournament. Last year they won 3-2 in Fussen, Germany, and Kendall Coyne was the hero, scoring the winning goal in overtime. In 2008, the Americans won in Calgary, Alberta, by a 5-2 score. For Coyne and teammate Meagan Mangene, they are looking for a golden hat trick tonight, a rare feat, indeed, if they can manage it.
“This is my third one, my last year, so we’re really looking forward to the game,” Coyne said last night after her team beat Sweden, 5-0, to advance. “We’re playing really well as a team.”
For Canada, losing to the U.S. is not palatable even once, so to lose three times in a row would be unpleasant, indeed, as many of the players pass eligibility and move to the senior level after tonight’s game.
How do you judge the two teams heading into today’s games when they have been so dominant against their opponents and have yet to face each other? Coyne leads all scorers with nine goals, but Canada has the top two point getters, Jessica Campbell with 13 and Brigette Lacquette with 11.
Both teams have played four games and Canada has surrendered three goals, all in the first game against Russia, and the Americans just one. Both teams have won their last three games by shutout. Canada has scored 44 goals, and the U.S. 36.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is shots on goal. Canada has a 220-45 differential in shots while the Americans are 213-48. Neither side has allowed more than 16 shots against in any one game, and both sides have had at least 41 shots on their opponent’s goal. In short, the domination has been substantial to this point, and neither side will enjoy such puck possession tonight, to be sure.
While the U.S. is two-time defending champions, the Canadians did win a fall series last August, taking two of three games and giving the team an added boost coming to Chicago. “That definitely got our confidence up,” Canada’s Christine Bestland suggested. “We’re a totally different team from last year, and everything is coming together for us. I think we have a really good chance to win.”
American forward Alex Carpenter, daughter of Bobby Carpenter, has a different view, of course. “We’re a fairly young team and we’ve played really well the last two weeks. They won that exhibition series, 2-1, but we can pull together as a team. This is the game we’ve been waiting to play.”
Perhaps the deciding factor in the game will be the energy level, as Carpenter suggested. “I think both teams are very fatigued,” she said. “We’ve played a lot of games. I think that’s going to be the key factor—who wants it more, who gets to the loose pucks and fights that fatigue better.”
While the Americans have home-ice advantage, they may also be the more tired in that they have been without Stephanie Anderson since the first game. This has meant going with 17 skaters while Canada had had the full complement of 18, not a big difference against the lower-ranked teams, but possibly a factor tonight.
“We have a few set plays we’d like to use which we think will be effective,” Bestland said with purposeful vagueness. “I don’t want to give our game plan away, but we think we know how to beat any team.”
Despite being tired, Carpenter is still plenty confident. “I feel like we’re playing really well as a team and coming together as a team, supporting each other.”
By bedtime tonight we’ll know if the Americans have made it three in a row, or if Canada has broken the WW U18 winless streak in gold games.