The finale of the Rivalry Series between the U.S. women’s hockey team and its Canadian counterpart succeeded in a mission grander than selling women’s hockey, though the U.S. team’s historic first game in Southern California was a perfect promotion for an under-appreciated sport. The game also fueled dreams among the kids who brought homemade signs and impressionable minds to Honda Center, inspiring them in ways they might not yet understand.
Fans who watched the U.S. defeat Canada 4-3 on Megan Bozek’s power-play goal off a scramble in front of the net 42 seconds into overtime saw strong, determined athletes ferociously compete for every inch of ice and loose puck. Some in the crowd of 13,320 — a record for the U.S. national hockey team on home soil — saw their future selves. Others got a peek at the future they hope their sisters, daughters or granddaughters will have a chance to enjoy.
“Together, we’re breaking barriers,” U.S. captain Kendall Coyne Schofield said. “I think tonight the Anaheim Ducks set the tone and set the market. You can host a women’s hockey game in your building and sell it.”
Kids rushed to ice level during the warmups to press against the glass and hold up their posters, glorious creations of wobbly letters and earnestly drawn American flags. “Go USA. Kick Butt!” was one message. “We want the US to win,” said another, and others like it. Even in defeat the Canadians enjoyed the atmosphere. “I think it was great. I think the fans are there and they’re ready for us to be on the big stage,” forward Melodie Daoust said.
The game brought fans of the Kings and Ducks together and united members of the Lady Ducks youth hockey organization with the San Diego Junior Gulls and L.A. Lions, the Kings’ program for girls and women. Spontaneous chants of “USA!” broke out. So did gasps of awe or frustration.
The tone was passionate, as meetings between the reigning Olympic champion Americans and runner-up Canadians always are, even though the U.S. had clinched the series trophy by winning three of the first four games. “It could be a game behind closed doors and will be just as physical and hard-fighting as a game in front of almost 13,500 fans, or whatever it was,” U.S. forward Kelly Pannek said.
It was entertaining, enlivened by a brisk pace and the most precise passing on this ice this season — and yes, that includes you, Anaheim Ducks. It was also a watershed moment.
“Pulling up to the building, I got the chills because of the building we’re in and you realize how big this is,” Tracy Clark of Saskatoon, Canada, the mother of Canada center Emily Clark, said as she and her husband, Del, chatted with friends before the game. “It’s so exciting. They always play hard and you never know which way it’s going to go.”
Bryce Drysdale and Joyce Chen of Huntington Beach came to the game with friends Chelsea Lancaster and Michael Tseng of Irvine. “I love to support women’s sports,” Lancaster said. Chen watched the U.S. and Canadian women play a three-on-three exhibition at the NHL All-Star game and was hooked. “They had the women in the skills event, and that was really fun,” Chen said.
The U.S. scored first, when Hilary Knight got a stick on a long shot by Bozek 2 minutes 37 seconds into the first period, but Canada responded at 3:01 when Jill Saulnier drove to the net to jab the puck past U.S. goaltender Alex Cavallini at 3:01. Loren Gabel put Canada ahead at 16:32 off a shot from the left side on a two-on-one break, and the U.S. matched that at 18:24 when Dani Cameranesi’s shot went between goalie Genevieve Lacasse’s arm and the post.
Canada took a 3-2 lead at 2:56 of the second period, when Daoust beat Cavallini with a backhander. The Americans applied pressure until Monique Lamoureux-Morando brought them even nine minutes into the third period on a pass from former Lady Duck youth player Annie Pankowski of Laguna Hills, who won a battle along the boards.
The real winner was women’s hockey, which has struggled to sustain a professional league. Elite players have shunned the National Women’s Hockey League this season in favor of working to create a new and more stable league, and they’ve had to take extraordinary measures to maintain their skills. They formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Assn., which has staged clinics and scrimmages to keep them active; ideally, the NHL will step in and provide logistic and financial support. It hasn’t done so, though including female players in the All-Star skills events was a big gain.
“We love being together. This is what we train for, is playing together and with each other for each other, for our country,” Pannek said. “We’ll take as many games as we can in that jersey.”
The U.S. and Canada probably will meet again in the World Championships, which will be played March 31 to April 10 in the Canadian cities of Halifax and Truro. They could play every week and it still wouldn’t be often enough to satisfy hockey fans and the young dreamers they inspired Saturday.