"I'm so proud of everyone," said defender Ava Murphy, who stepped up with a goal and an assist. "I think we really worked hard. We stuck together as a team. And just to have our dreams come true and to finally win gold is an amazing moment."
Monday’s final at Madison’s LaBahn Arena epitomized the passionate rivalry between the North American superpowers at all levels of women's hockey. In a back-and-forth second period, Canada grabbed a 3-0 lead, including two goals in 58 seconds, only to see the U.S. claw back with two late-period goals in a record-tying seven seconds.
This dethroning marked Canada’s first title since 2019 and sixth of all time. The U.S. edged Canada 2-1 in the 2020 gold medal game – the last time this tournament was played prior to COVID-19 – in Bratislava on Kiara Zanon’s sudden-death goal.
"It feels amazing," said defender Sara Swiderski, the lone Canadian named to the tournament all-star team. "I dreamed about this moment, but I didn't actually believe it would feel as good."
This year's tournament, originally scheduled for Sweden in January, was postponed till June, but the exhilarating spectacle of this gold medal game certainly made it worth the wait.
Jocelyn Amos's second-period goal, her first of the tournament, proved to be the winner. Alexia Aubin also stepped up with a goal and an assist for Canada.
Finley McCarthy and Claire Enright replied for the Americans.
"I think we faced a whole different Canadian team, which caught us on our heels a little bit," said leading U.S. scorer Laila Edwards (4+4=8), who was named tournament MVP. "We battled back. Missed by a goal. Definitely upset with the ending, but I'm so super-proud of this group, the best team I played for."
The U.S. outshot Canada 31-21.
Among starting goalies, the U.S.’s Annelies Bergmann came in with the tournament’s best numbers (1.00 GAA, 95.7 save percentage). Canada’s Mari Pietersen, who also sported strong numbers (1.13 GAA, 93.8 save percentage), took over as the starter after Hailey MacLeod surrendered five goals on 17 shots in the 7-0 group stage loss to the Americans. Pietersen came through in the clutch for gold.
Coach Howie Draper’s squad blanked the top U.S. line of Laila Edwards, Tessa Janecke, and Kirsten Simms. Simms put on a stickhandling clinic but couldn't convert it into goals. Edwards and Simms, along with Claire Enright, will make their NCAA debuts with the University of Wisconsin in 2022-23.
The objective is always to play your best game in the gold medal game. The Canadians definitely delivered.
The high-tempo action matched the jacked-up atmosphere with a capacity crowd waving U.S. flags. Metallica’s "Enter Sandman" blasted at the opening faceoff, and ironically, the Americans were nearly caught napping on a first-minute 3-on-1 for Canada. Assistant captain Karel Prefontaine, who led all Canadians with seven shots in the 3-2 semi-final win over Sweden, blazed down left wing and rang one off the cross bar.
At 5:35, Aubin opened the scoring for Canada with Simms off for hooking. Murphy's rising slap shot was deflected by Aubin and beat Bergmann through traffic. It was Canada's first power play goal of these U18 Women's Worlds, ending a drought that saw Canada go 0-for-14.
"That first goal is so critical, particularly with young athletes," said Draper. "It gave us a little bit of a lift, but I thought we really earned it. It felt like the girls came out of the gate just flying."
The dangerous U.S. power play – which came in top-ranked at 41.1 percent (7-for-17) – went 3-for-7 versus Canada in the first encounter, but went 0-for-3 in the semi-final versus Sweden. It also struggled in the first period.
The U.S. got two consecutive 5-on-4's that the Canadians rendered ineffective, including Kelly Gorbatenko’s partial attempt to pull off a “Michigan” goal on Wisconsin ice. The pairing of Swiderski and Sara MacEachern stepped up with effective sticks and blocks to keep the U.S. scoreless.
Swiderski praised MacEachern: "She was a huge part of the energy that I think we both had on the ice. We really connected and we really brought that team-first mentality together. I think we both strived in this environment, wanting it so bad for the team."
In the second period, the end-to-end action continued. Bergmann had to be quick with her right pad to stop Emmalee Pais with a spinaround shot from the slot. The U.S. goalie also stopped Jordan Baxter from point-blank range and kept the puck out during a ferocious goalmouth scrum.
Canada jumped into a 2-0 lead at 11:36. Forward Jade Iginla, playing in her third playoff game after returning from an upper-body injury, hustled the puck into the American zone. The tenacious and talented daughter of Jarome Iginla tried to put the puck in at the side of the net and it squirted out into the slot to Murphy, who hammered it through Bergmann.
"It just came out to me and I knew I had to get the shot off quick," said Murphy. "And it went in the net. So I was pretty grateful for that."
At 12:34, Amos made it 3-0. It was a broken play that showed the value of persistence. Amos's original shot off the rush was blocked, but Prefontaine followed up with a shot that Bergmann saved, only to have the London Devilettes forward backhand the rebound high into the net.
The LaBahn Arena fans remained exuberant, doing the wave. The U.S. rewarded their ardor with 1:37 left in the period. McCarthy cut the deficit to 3-1 on the power play. She cut past Alex Law inside the blue line and winged a long shot that eluded Pietersen.
Off the centre-face off, Enright barged to the net and banged a loose puck over Pietersen to reduce Canada's lead to one goal. The gap between goals was just seven seconds. That equalled the tournament record set by fellow Americans Alex Carpenter and Kendall Coyne in 2010 versus the Czechs and by Abby Ness and Sydney Daniels in 2011 versus the Czechs. Now the chants of "USA!" were deafening.
"Obviously, it wasn't ideal," said Pietersen. "But I knew we were going to keep playing strong. My teammates came and patted me on the pads and just said, 'Let's finish this period off.' And we came in after the second and had a good talk. The energy was good."
To start the third period, Canada failed to capitalize on a U.S. delay of game penalty that carried over for 1:13, with McCarthy having put the puck over the glass in the U.S. zone. American blueliner Emma Peschel was sent off for an illegal hit at 6:23 after a net-front scrum.
However, Canada's best chance in the first half of the third came when a shoot-in bounced right out in front of Bergmann's vacated cage. McKenna van Gelder just missed poking it in.
The U.S. got a giant chance for the equalizer when Murphy was penalized for interference with 3:41 left. Edwards nearly banged in a rebound, standing at the crease, but Janecke's shot went off the post.
"Three goals is a big deficit," said the U.S.'s Sydney Morrow, a tournament all-star who led all blueliners in scoring (1+7=8). "And in these games, which are super tight and back and forth, it's hard to get that deficit back. But we gave it everything and we just fell a little short."
The Canadians joyously mobbed their goalie at the final buzzer.
In addition to U.S. women's hockey legend Brianna Decker, current and former NHL stars attended the gold medal game.
Former Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla – whose Olympic exploits include racking up three points in the 2002 gold medal game in Salt Lake City and setting up Sidney Crosby’s overtime winner in the 2010 final in Vancouver – was there with his family to cheer on his daughter Jade. Ryan Suter of the Dallas Stars, who owns Middleton’s Capitol Ice Arena (the secondary venue for this tournament) and the USHL’s Madison Capitals, also watched with his family.
This was the 13th gold-medal meeting in 14 tournaments between Canada and the Americans. The lone exception was 2018, when the U.S. trounced upstart Sweden 9-3.
The U.S.’s U18 Women’s Worlds record in gold medal games against Canada fell to seven wins and six losses. Seven of the previous head-to-head finals went to overtime, with the U.S. winning four times and losing three times.
In terms of the overall Canada-U.S. rivalry in women’s hockey, this outcome will only add fuel to the fire. The Canadians recently regained their titles as Women’s Worlds (2021) and Olympic (2022) champions after droughts that dated back to 2012 and 2014 respectively.
The next IIHF senior women's tournament is the 2022 Women’s Worlds in Denmark (26 August to 4 September, Herning and Frederikshavn). It's the first time the Women’s Worlds have ever taken place in an Olympic year. Fans are looking forward to seeing which U18 Women’s Worlds stars could make their senior debut there.
The 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship has been allocated to Sweden. It will take place in Ostersund and Brunflo from 8 to 15 January.