Another women’s showdown
by Lucas Aykroyd|10 NOV 2018
Like the Olympic final in Korea, the 2018 4 Nations Cup once again sees Canada and the U.S. battling for gold.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
For Saskatoon, hosting the 2018 4 Nations Cup is another international hockey landmark. On Saturday, women’s hockey fans will see the powerhouse American and Canadian rivals battle for gold for the first time since the Olympics in February.

At this tournament, a non-IIHF annual showcase also featuring Finland and Sweden, the Canadian women, captained by Marie-Philip Poulin, are looking for a little revenge as a new quadrennial begins, with the 2022 Beijing Olympics on the horizon.

“The power play and PK game is really huge against the U.S.,” said Poulin, who forged her legend by scoring the Olympic gold medal-winning goals in both 2010 and 2014. “It’s going to be really tight. We all know that. It’ll be really important if we get those power play opportunities to try to put one in.”

The Americans have won the last three 4 Nations Cups and the last four IIHF Women’s World Championships. They are, of course, the reigning Olympic champions after dethroning Canada in a dramatic shootout in PyeongChang in February. That was the first U.S. Olympic title since the inaugural 1998 tournament. The Canadians earned four straight Olympic golds from 2002 to 2014.

“This has been an exciting tournament, a really fresh start for the next four years heading into the Olympics,” said U.S. defender Kacey Bellamy, a three-time Olympian. “I think that we have a couple new players, and a lot of the teams have a couple new players. So it’s really good for us. We’re excited to go for another gold.”

At the SaskTel Centre, the unbeaten Americans cruised to a 5-1 win over Sweden on Friday in their last tune-up before the championship, with goals from five different players. Rookie Sydney Brodt got the party started with her tournament-leading third goal of the tournament (tied with Canada’s Melodie Daoust). Fellow senior team newcomer Melissa Samoskevich and Hannah Brandt staked the Americans to a 3-0 first-period lead. Current captain Brianna Decker added a slick power play goal in the second period, and Dani Cameranesi rounded out the scoring in the third.

Sabina Kuller had the lone tally for Sweden, which has struggled in recent years. It has not won an Olympic medal since 2006’s surprising silver or a Women’s Worlds medal since 2007’s bronze.

“We’ve thrown a lot at these women this week, trying to change a few things,” said new U.S. head coach Bob Corkum, a 720-game NHLer who replaces PyeongChang bench boss Robb Stauber. “I thought they executed it very well tonight. Systematically, it was definitely our best game.”

Ultimately, there were no big surprises in the round-robin. The Nordic underdogs couldn’t beat the North Americans. The U.S. edged Canada 2-1 on Wednesday on Brodt’s late third-period goal, maintaining the pattern of one-goal games between these two rivals. The U.S. has gained the upper hand in the 2010s.

“In the past eight years or so, we haven’t won a ton of big games against them,” said new Team Canada general manager Gina Kingsbury, who earned Olympic gold as a player in 2006 and 2010. “We get really close and it’s a one-goal game, overtime, shootout. But we seem to never be able to get that last one in. That’s the psychological edge we need to regain. We’re not far from it. We are chasing, but we’re right there. I like the momentum that we have, and we’re looking forward to the next four years with this group.”

A virus contracted after an exhibition game in Prince Albert has hampered both the Canadians and the Finns, but particularly coach Pasi Mustonen’s team, which will host the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Espoo in April. The Canadians blanked Finland 3-0 on Friday to make it to the 4 Nations Cup final.

The flu-decimated Finns iced just 10 forwards and six defenders in the loss to Canada. Missing were key players like IIHF Hall of Famer Riikka Valila and her linemate Michelle Karvinen, the Best Forward and top scorer of the 2014 Olympics. Valila was well enough to score a goal and assist on the winner in a 3-2 victory over Sweden. They’ll have a rematch for the bronze medal on Saturday.

“We had a good morale, so I’m very satisfied, considering what’s happened during the week,” said Mustonen. “We have five players who haven’t been sick out of the 24-player roster. Still, this kind of minor crisis is always experience you can take with you. And now we’ve showed we can battle anyway. So it’s not only black. It’s a little bit white as well.”

Early in the first period, Daoust made it 1-0 Canada, cruising into the slot and beating Finland’s Noora Raty with a beautiful centering pass from Poulin. At 4:55, Rebecca Johnston, who had four assists in the opening 6-1 romp over Sweden, finished off a 2-on-1 rush. Laura Stacey added an empty-netter in the final minute of the third.

Emerance Maschmeyer, returning to the Canadian net for the first time since the 2017 Women’s Worlds, got a 14-save shutout. Despite shining overall with 45 saves, Raty, named Best Goalie at the 2018 Olympics, critiqued her performance at the other end: “The start was a little shaky. I thought the first goal I was off-angle. The second goal, I didn’t control the rebound. So something to clean up there. But I’ve been sick. It was hard to get my legs going.”

Now the spotlight is firmly focused on the U.S.-Canada showdown. In PyeongChang, every goal these two foes scored in the 3-2 final was a thing of artistic beauty. Interestingly, Saskatoon’s new $80-million Remai Modern art gallery features more than 400 linocuts by Pablo Picasso. But which woman will create a new masterpiece on Saturday night in snowy Saskatoon? Stay tuned.