Team USA defeated Canada 3-1 to cap the first night of competition at the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championship at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops, British Columbia, Monday evening, in what many believe was a preview of the championship match-up on April 4.
Whenever the two rivals meet, a full tilt battle is sure to ensue, and Monday’s confrontation lived up to series history. For the first two periods, the heroes of each team were positioned on opposite ends of the ice, as a battle of goalkeepers kept the capacity crowd of 5,464 cheering great saves and groaning near misses. Team USA netminder Alex Rigsby, a two-time world champion, had the busier time on her end, turning away 24 Canadian shots in the first 40 minutes, but it was Canadian goalkeeper Emerance Maschmeyer who may have scored points with the degree of difficulty on some of the 13 saves she logged by the second intermission. Rigsby ended the match with 38 saves, while Maschmeyer stopped 23 shots.
“It’s a really intense rivalry,” said Rigsby, 24. “It’s really fun. This is what we train for all year. To be able to come out and play Canada in our opening game is always exciting. I think the girls came out and responded well.”
The top five teams in this week’s world championship will qualify for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, and the U.S. and Canada are frontrunners for the top two spots. The U.S. and Canada share Group A with Russia and Finland in Kamloops, while Switzerland and Sweden make up Group B along with Japan and Czech Republic.
After the United States had come up empty on five power plays, Canada was presented its first just before the end of the second period. Continuing the power play at the start of the final 20 minutes, Canada finally broke the deadlock when Laura Fortino fired the puck through heavy traffic in front of the net to give the hosts the advantage in the 41st minute. Trailing throughout both encounters with the U.S. in 2015, Canada finally had a lead, 1-0.
“Just control your emotions,” is what Rigsby said went through her mind after the goal. “That’s what coach told us throughout the entire game. Focus on what we could do to continue to be successful. That was the greatest thing, just shaking it off and continue to move forward and making sure I was taking it one shot at a time.”
Canada’s lead lasted only nine minutes. The tide turned for the Americans in the 50th minute when two-time Olympic silver medalist Hilary Knight rocketed a shot past Maschmeyer’s glove and into the lower right corner of the net to even the game at 1-1. Four minutes later, 2014 Olympian Brianna Decker sorted out a scramble in front of the goal to push one into the net for a 2-1 U.S. lead. It was left to Knight to put the icing on the cake, adding an empty net goal with 19 seconds remaining for the final 3-1 tally. Her two goals give Knight a career total of 27 at the world championships, tying her for third on the all-time U.S. list with Karyn Bye Dietz.
If history is a sign of things to come, the two teams will meet again in the gold-medal game, just as they have in the previous 16 editions of the event. The United States has won the world championship six times, including five of the last six. The Americans continue group play Tuesday afternoon against a Finland side that defeated Russia 5-3 in its tournament opener, while Canada will face Russia in the other half of Group A play.