DETROIT -- The U.S. women’s ice hockey team is still the defending Olympic gold medalist and still has won the last four world championships.
Those remain the biggest feathers in the cap the Americans can flaunt, even as Team Canada managed to earn some semblance of bragging rights this weekend.
Thanks to a 2-0 loss in the third and final game of this past week’s Rivalry Series, Canada won two of the three games to win the exhibition between the sport’s two biggest powers and rivals.
The U.S. won the first game on Tuesday, holding out for a 1-0 victory in London, Ontario, but the Canadians rallied to take the next two games, a 4-3 win on Thursday in Toronto and Sunday’s rubber match in front of a fairly bipartisan crowd at Little Caesars Arena, the new home of the Red Wings in downtown Detroit.
Ontario is just across the river from Detroit, so a healthy amount of Canadian fans came and went back across the bridge or tunnel happy with what their team was able to accomplish.
But despite the two losses, the U.S. team also left with some things to feel positive about as this year’s world championships, which will be held in Finland, loom in April.
“Anytime you play a great team, you’re going to have a problem with errors and breakdowns. We had them today,” said U.S. forward Hilary Knight, one of 14 players on the U.S. roster who was part of the 2018 Olympic gold-medal win against Canada.
“But at the same time, we had some successes as well, so it’s really taking the errors back to the drawing board, working on them and making sure we are ready in the next six weeks.”
Knight, a three-time Olympian, was the biggest offensive standout for the Americans during the series, tallying the only goal in Tuesday’s win before collecting two assists in the Game 2 loss.
It should be noted that neither team was playing with its full roster during the series.
Each roster featured only players who had graduated from college, so key contributors from last year’s Games on both sides were absent because they are deep in the season with their college programs.
Two notable players missing for Team USA was starting goalie Maddie Rooney of Minnesota Duluth and Boston College defenseman Megan Keller, a native of suburban Detroit who would have had a homecoming had she been on the roster.
“There were definitely some college kids that could’ve been here and we don’t know what the roster will be like in a few weeks,” said U.S. forward Brianna Decker, a two-time Olympian. “I think those college kids are working hard and doing well.”
Both the good and bad news for Team USA on Sunday was that it outshot Canada by a healthy 38-17 margin.
It was good news because Canada outshot the U.S. in the previous two games, doing so 33-21 in the first game and 30-27 in the second game.
But it was also bad news because while the Americans were generating a lot of quantity in terms of shots, the Canadian defense prevented them from being quality chances by clearing away rebounds and allowing goalie Shannon Szabados to see shots clearly.
Szabados, the third different Canadian goalie to play in the series, stopped all 38 shots she saved for the shutout.
The U.S. started goalie Alex Rigsby, who was sensational in making 33 saves for the shutout in the first game of the series (the Americans started Katie Burt in the second game).
Canada managed to put two behind Rigsby though on Sunday, starting 5:40 into the first period on a power-play goal by Brianne Jenner, who fired a shot from the right face-off circle through traffic and inside the near post to make it 1-0 Canada.
After killing off a U.S. power play to start the second period, Canada took a 2-0 lead with 16:25 left in the second on a goal by Blayre Turnbull.
On a rush into the U.S. zone, Turnbull skated down the middle, fed a pass to Jamie Lee Rattray on the left side, charged toward the net and then tipped home a pass from Rattray underneath the crossbar.
From there, Canada seemed content to keep a defensive posture, allowing the U.S. to fire away at Szabados as long as she could see them and there were no juicy rebounds.
Still, the U.S. team knows it has aspects of its game to build on as it prepares for the world championships, and the knowledge that having a full roster that will be announced in the coming weeks will make it a new ballgame in Finland.
“Of course we would like to have come out on top here at home in Detroit,” said Team USA coach Bob Corkum. “But congratulations to Canada on the series win. We look forward to seeing them again at the world championship.”