WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. – The U.S. women’s hockey team wasn’t necessarily looking for a test of its special teams, but it got one anyway.
In a game with a combined 18 penalties between USA and Canada, it was the Americans who fared better on power plays and penalty kills. They secured a 4-2 win at the Florida Hospital Ice Center on Wednesday in the second game of the Four Nations Cup.
The Canadians didn’t quite keep pace in a physical game between the two best women’s teams in the world prepare for the lead-up to the Pyeongchang Olympics in February.
The U.S. team ended up with 11 penalties, allowing just one goal off those. And on the power play, the Americans scored three times on Canada’s seven penalties.
“It’s hard to imagine that you get 11 or 12 penalties in one game and come out of there with just giving up one,” said U.S. coach Robb Stauber. “It just goes back to mind-set. We are gonna play very hard on the penalty kill.”
“It doesn’t happen very often like that, but I loved the fact that we battled through,” he added. “We never ever were discouraged. We didn’t get distracted by the penalties.”
The game was a renewal of a rivalry that is largely expected to take center stage for a gold medal in Pyeongchang in February.
The teams played twice last month – the Americans won 5-2 in Quebec before losing 5-1 in Boston three days later – and this was the teams’ third of seven matchups in the lead up to the Games. They face a likely eighth one here in the final on Sunday.
The U.S. team took a 2-0 lead after a chippy first period in which it spent about nine minutes on the penalty kill. The Americans picked up five penalties, two early in the game for too many players on the ice, yet kept the Canadians off the board and outshot them 15-5.
Despite the physical play – Canada also took three penalties in the opening period – the U.S. team scored twice in the final five minutes. Cayla Barnes scored on the power play for her second goal of the tournament, and Megan Bozek scored with 2:10 left.
“In the first period, it kind of killed us,” said Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin. “I think we needed to get a couple goals in that moment, but they played well in that PK.”
Canada’s Rebecca Johnston cut into the USA’s lead early in the second period on the power play, streaking from right to left in front of the goal and rifling a shot past Maddie Rooney to make it 2-1.
Canada outshot the U.S. team in 15-9 in that period.
The Americans pushed their lead to 3-1 less than a minute into the third period on Kendall Coyne’s power-play goal in a scrum in front of the net.
Canada briefly cut into the USA’s two-goal lead with a shorthanded breakaway score from Meghan Agosta, but Alex Carpenter responded 36 seconds later on the power play to make it 4-2 with less than four minutes to play.
“Our special teams didn’t get the job done,” said Canada coach Laura Schuler. “Our power play didn’t produce like how we would want them to. Our PK, at the same time, wasn’t as successful as we have been in the past.”
Coyne and Bozek led the USA with a goal and assist apiece, while Brianna Decker had two assists.
The teams will likely face off again on Sunday, but both must play games to complete the round robin.
The USA routed Finland in the opener of the Four Nations Cup, while Canada shut out Sweden on Tuesday. The Americans play Sweden on Friday, and Canada plays Finland.
Assuming they win – and that’s a safe bet – they have another date with each other and another opportunity to work on their special teams, this weekend.
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