“I think the past year or so has been kind of tough for our group,” said goaltender Nicole Hensley. “I think we started kind of chipping away at things in August and couldn’t quite get the result we wanted in Denmark, so to be able to come here and get those three wins and have our group gain some confidence and headed in the right direction, I feel like that’s huge and doesn’t happen very often with this rivalry.”
These games marked the the U.S. Women’s National Team debut for six skaters: Riley Brengman, Rebecca Gilmore, Kelsey King, Maureen Murphy, Gabby Rosenthal and Haley Winn. For the Canadians, Elizabeth Giguere made her senior national team debut.
“I always believe that 60 minutes on the clock in a hockey game, 80% of it’s grey matter, and so a lot of it’s will, a lot of it is spirit, a lot of it is what you have in that room,” said U.S. head coach John Wroblewski. "I think having that excitement really breeds that amongst the players, it sort of re-energizes and re-invigorates some of the players, they see that excitement from those younger ones with less experience.”
The Americans started the series with a 4-3 shootout win in Kelowna on November 15. After goals from Hannah Brandt and Hilary Knight, Canada answered with three, two in the second period from Claire Thompson and Marie-Philip Poulin and one in the third from Emily Clark. Alex Carpenter had a standout game, sending the game to extra time with a power play goal and scoring one of the Americans’ two shootout goals.
Two days later in Kamloops, the United States edged out Canada 2-1. Kristen Campbell got the start in net for Canada, making 32 saves in her first ever appearance against the United States. No goals were scored through the first 38 minutes, with Marie-Philip Poulin getting Canada on the board late in the second period with a penalty shot goal after Laura Stacey was hooked on a breakaway. The Americans responded just over a minute later with a tying goal from Kendall Coyne Schofield. Carpenter was once again crucial to the Americans’ success, scoring the game winner in the third period.
“I think for us, year one coming out of the last squad, we have a new team, we’re introducing new concepts. We had a ton of success last year, but our biggest thing is we don’t want to stay stagnant, we want to continue to raise the bar,” said Sarah Nurse. "Our team’s introduced a ton of new concepts, we have new personnel, and so what we really want to do is continue to raise the bar. For us that’s taking a little bit of risk, trying new things out there, and so [this series is] really an evaluation piece.”
Sunday’s game in Seattle started with Hilary Knight being presented with a golden stick from USA Hockey in honour of her setting a new scoring record at the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championships in September.
“It’s a testament to where the game’s going and how we’re trying to do things the right way and honour previous players and try to honour those that are representing our country and playing in this jersey,” said Knight. “I’m looking forward to a chance to call out Kendall [Coyne Schofield] with her assists record for the US.”
The United States had the hometown crowd of 14,551 fans – the largest ever at a U.S. women’s national ice hockey team game in the United States – on their feet mere seconds into the game with a goal from Savannah Harmon.
“[Harmon] made no mistake,” said Wroblewski. “That shot, if you look at the replay, is tremendous. It’s something that she worked on and works on a lot, and what a shot.”
“I’ve never played in front of such a big crowd so I was pretty excited,” said Hensley. “I think you could tell with the way we came out, a pretty good, fast start for us, and it just carried over and we felt like once we took the lead we just kept pressing and never looked back.”
Poulin scored her third goal in as many games just over 10 minutes later. This was Poulin’s 96th goal and 198th point for Canada, inching her closer to become the fourth Canadian player to reach 100 goals and the fifth Canadian player to reach 200 points.
The Americans also struck early in the second period, with Abby Roque scoring a slick one-timer off a pass from Amanda Kessel. With Harmon and Emily Clark in the penalty box following a scrum in front of Hensley’s crease, Knight took advantage of the extra ice during 4-on-4 play, scoring a breakaway goal on Ann-Renée Desbiens.
While Nurse helped close the gap for Canada with a goal off a pass from Renata Fast, Knight notched her second goal of the game on a power play in the third period to give the U.S. a 4-2 lead. Canada killed a late penalty and pulled Desbiens in the final minute, but the U.S. pulled away with the win.
“I thought that Canada really brought it, they really didn’t want to see three games in the loss column and you could tell from their leader on down, they were tremendous,” said Wroblewski. “It felt great to be American today, an American hockey player, and I think that there’s going to be a lot of young girls in Seattle that want to be Hilary Knight or Kendall Coyne after that game. It was an honour to be a part of.”
“I think in women’s sports we know the issue is visibility and whenever we can show up and support women’s sports to this magnitude and continue to progress off of that, it only shows,” said Knight. “Years ago we didn’t have a Rivalry Series, and this group pushed and pushed and pushed, and now we’re able to tour different US and Canadian cities. It’s so important for that next generation growing up, but it’s also important at this level to be able to get with your squad and be able to play and problem solve on the fly and all the great things that can happen when you’re playing at an elite level.”
Canada and the United States will continue the Rivalry Series in December, with games in Henderson, Nevada (December 15) and Los Angeles, California (December 19).