PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- When the title game of the IIHF Women’s World Championship went into overtime for the second year in a row, the U.S. players knew the drill.
They had beaten Canada in last year’s title game, after playing to a 0-0 tie through regulation. And after playing to 2-2 through 60 minutes on Friday, they were ready to do it again.
“There was no doubt in my mind that we weren’t going to win this game,” forward Brianna Decker said.
And when Hilary Knight wound up to shoot 9:43 into overtime, there was no doubt that it was over.
Knight, a two-time Olympian, blocked a puck in the U.S. zone and then trailed teammate Kendall Coyne on a 3-on-2 break into the Canada zone. When Coyne skated to the corner and dropped the puck back to Knight, she blasted it over the shoulder of Canada goalie Shannon Szabados.
“She has one heck of a shot,” Decker said with a smirk.
Team USA won the game 3-2 to claim its fourth world title in a row – its longest streak – and its eighth in 18 tournaments, dating back to 1990. This one was special, though, as it was the first win on home ice.
Canada had won the 1994, 2001 and 2012 tournaments in the United States before Team USA’s victory Friday in front of a standing-room-only crowd at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan.
“We were playing for more than just each other,” Decker said. “We played for our country.”
Friday’s game marked the 18th time in 18 world championships that Canada and the United States met in the final. After each team cruised through its semifinal, a raucous crowd was ready for them in the championship game.
As has come to be expected when these rivals play, it was a fast-paced, aggressive game from start to finish.
One night after Team USA pounced on upstart Germany, scoring 66 seconds into an 11-0 win, Canada turned the tables when Meghan Agosta scored on a breakaway 61 seconds into the final.
USA-Canada is not USA-Germany, though.
The Americans killed off a subsequent penalty as a “U-S-A” chant drowned out a “Go Canada” chant, and then defenseman Kacey Bellamy scored when her slapshot from the blue line deflected past Canada goalie Shannon Szabados at 4:34.
With the game knotted up, the two rivals went back and forth for the next 35 minutes, neither side able to break through until 42 seconds into the third, when Bellamy notched her second goal of the game. It was Canada’s turn to answer, and it did on Brianne Jenner’s power play goal at 9:44.
Again knotted up, the teams played out the final 10 minutes and headed into overtime. The Americans got an advantage early when Canada’s Jennifer Wakefield was called for interference. But it was after Canada’s fifth successful penalty kill that the Americans began to seize momentum.
At one point, defenseman Megan Bozek skated a full circle around the goal with the puck before making a mad charge toward the net. Once again, the chance was foiled.
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Moments later, it was the Knight show.
“We talked to the players before the game (and told them) to display poise,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said. “And they displayed poise.”
It was the second time Knight scored an overtime game-winner to give Team USA the world title. She also did so in a 3-2 win in 2011.
The Coyne-Decker-Knight line was on fire throughout the tournament. Coyne and Decker, the tournament MVP, led all players with 12 points, including a tournament-high five goals for Coyne and a tournament-high nine assists for Decker. Knight finished tied for second in scoring with nine points on four goals and five assists.
Goalie Nicole Hensley started three games for Team USA, including the final, and finished with a tournament-high 96.43 save percentage and 0.63 goals-against average. Her previous two starts were shutouts.
“At the end of the day, when you’ve got somebody dialed in mentally like she can get, you don’t need to worry about it,” Stauber said.
Friday’s game was a rematch of the tournament opener, when Team USA shutout Canada 2-0. The Americans went on to go undefeated through their five games.
Canada, meanwhile, survived unprecedented adversity to reach the final. After losing the opener to Team USA, the Canadians lost 4-3 to Finland. It was the first time Canada lost to anyone besides Team USA in world championships history. The skid ended there, though, as Canada then blanked Russia 8-0 in pool play and Finland 4-0 in a semifinal rematch.
The second-place finish stings, though.
After Canada won the first eight world titles, a span running from 1990 to 2004, Team USA has now won eight of the last 10.
Attention next turns to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Although Team USA has taken momentum in the world championships, Canada has had a vice grip on the Olympic gold medal since 2002. The Canadians defeated Team USA in the 2002, 2010 and 2014 gold-medal games.
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic Movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.