From physical play to spectacular goaltending and flying forwards, the 2017 women’s hockey series between Team USA and Canada is driving expectations for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
In the sixth of eight meetings between the two teams ahead of the Winter Games, Canadian forward Jillian Saulnier finally solved Team USA goalie Alex Rigsby with 3:10 left in regulation on Tuesday as Canada defeated the Americans 2-0 at the Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Canada win evened up the pre-Olympic series between the teams at 3-3.
Laura Fortino scored into an empty net with 44.5 seconds remaining for the other goal.
Team USA won three of the first four games against Canada before falling 2-1 in overtime on Sunday in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Americans wrap up their 10-game pre-Olympic schedule (eight against Canada) by playing their last five games against Canada, with two games remaining in the series.
Team USA and Canada used Winnipeg as the stage in yet another battle for the ages between the top two women’s hockey teams in the world. Team USA has won the last four world championships, as well as the inaugural Olympic tournament at the Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998.
Canada, however, has won the last four Olympic gold medals, with the U.S. taking silver at the last two Winter Games and medaling in all five Olympic tournaments.
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In an attempt to generate more offense after the overtime loss on Sunday, Team USA coach Robb Stauber switched Monique Lamoureux-Morando from defense to left wing on a line with her twin sister Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson at center and Annie Pankowski at right wing. The Lamoureux sisters are part of a dozen Olympians on the Team USA roster.
Unfortunately for Team USA, Canada goalie Genevieve Lacasse shut the door and earned the shutout, despite Team USA holding a 24-15 edge in shots on goal. Team USA held Canada 0-for-4 on the power play but was 0-for-6 with the advantage.
Rigsby had to come up with big saves all game, especially with late-period heroics in both the first and second periods, stopping Rebecca Johnston on a short breaking drive from the left wing with a stick shaft save at the near pipe in the first period, and later a stick save one-on-one against Laura Stacey in tight with 24.6 seconds left in the second.
Rigsby came up huge again early in the third period by stoning Saulnier on a break through the slot, and then she made a short-handed save in a 2-on-1 by poke-checking a Saulnier pass before it reached Halli Krzyzaniak on the far side.
Team USA hosts Canada on Friday, Dec. 15 at the SAP Center in San Jose, California, and wraps up its schedule Dec. 17 for the third game north of the border by traveling to Alberta.
The Dec. 15 game is the final game of seven-game The Time is Now Tour that included the Four Nations Cup games. It is also the second game in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
With 26 players on Team USA’s roster, these final two games will help decide the 23 players who will go to the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. The final Olympic roster for Team USA is expected to be announced on Jan. 1.
Gary R. Blockus is a journalist from Allentown, Pennsylvania who has covered multiple Olympic Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.