Column: Canada defeats U.S. for women’s hockey gold medal

U.S.' Kendall Coyne Schofield skates away from celebrating Canadian players after the gold medal game.
U.S.’ Kendall Coyne Schofield skates away from celebrating Canadian players after the gold medal game at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
(Petr David Josek / Associated Press)

So close.

“I’m not going to be able to stop thinking about it for a while,” Amanda Kessel said. “I won’t forget this probably forever.”

So far.

“I don’t think we scratched the surface of our ability to play,” Hilary Knight said. “But at the end of the day, the score is what it is. They won a gold medal. We didn’t. So we have to give them credit.”

Canada deservedly won the latest episode in its long and splendid women’s hockey rivalry with the U.S., riding two clutch goals from Marie-Philip Poulin and one from tournament scoring leader Sarah Nurse for a 3-2 victory. Canada outscored its opponents 57-10 in seven games as Nurse broke countrywoman Hayley Wickenheiser’s Olympic record by scoring 18 points in the tournament and Poulin became the first player, male or female, to score a goal in four Olympic gold medal games.


The teams have met in six of seven gold medal games since women’s hockey was added to the Olympic program in 1998 and Canada has won four times, in addition to beating Sweden for gold in 2006. Canada and the U.S. remain the runaway leaders of a sport that’s still in its infancy. But Canada, inspired by losing to the U.S. in a shootout in the gold medal game at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, responded by raising the bar to new heights. The U.S., which lost standout forward Brianna Decker to a broken leg in its opener, couldn’t meet that challenge.

The puck skids past Canadian goalkeeper Ann-Renee Desbiens as United States' Hilary Knight scores
Hilary Knight of the U.S. scores against Canadian goalkeeper Ann-Renee Desbiens during the women’s gold medal hockey game at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
(Jonathan Ernst / Associated Press)

“It was a long haul of silvers and soul searching in the program,” Canada forward Brianne Jenner said. “I think this group didn’t really shy away from that. Let’s be bold. Let’s be brave. Let’s go out there and see what we can do.”

The Americans’ offense never clicked, though they produced barrages of shots. “That’s the beauty of this game. Sometimes it doesn’t work in your favor, even though sometimes it feels like it should,” said U.S. defenseman Cayla Barnes of Eastvale in Riverside County. “That’s what’s so awesome about this game: you never know what’s going to happen.”

On Thursday they outshot Canada 40-21 but didn’t play their best until their desperation overtook their frustration after they had fallen behind 3-0. That sad knowledge contributed to their devastation as they watched the Canadians throw their sticks and gloves in the air in celebration when the final buzzer sounded at Wukesong Sports Centre.

“I’ve seen us practice. I’ve seen us play. I’ve seen us put together 60 minutes. That just wasn’t it, right?” said U.S. forward Knight, who set a U.S. women’s record by playing in her 22nd game in the Olympics.

U.S. loses in quarterfinal shootout to Slovakia. Failure to take advantage of five-on-three advantage in third period may have been their undoing.

“I think if you saw the best of us, the score would be different. But at the end of the day, those are sports and you have to give them credit because they played a better 60-minute total than we did.”

Nurse opened the scoring at 7:50 of the first period after Canada won a faceoff to the right of U.S. goalie Alex Cavallini. The puck went to standout defenseman Claire Thompson, whose pass landed on Nurse’s stick for an easy redirection.

Canada expanded its lead to 2-0 at 15:02 after Poulin forced a turnover in the U.S. zone and whipped a shot past Cavallini. Poulin made it 3-0 at 9:08 of the second period by banking a rebound off Cavallini’s right leg from a sharp angle.

Knight kept the U.S. in the game and gave her teammates renewed hope with a second-effort short-handed goal at 16:39 of the second period. They pressed energetically to start the third and outshot Canada 16-4 in the final 20 minutes but had nothing to show for it until Amanda Kessel prodded the puck under the pad of goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens with 13 seconds left during a power play and with Cavallini pulled in favor of an extra skater.

“It’s tough to come out of a hole and claw our way out like that, but we did that,” Knight said. “If only we had more time, but that wasn’t the way the game was going to go for us.”

Canada's Sarah Nurse celebrates a goal against U.S. goalkeeper Alex Cavallini
Canada’s Sarah Nurse celebrates a goal against U.S. goalkeeper Alex Cavallini in the women’s gold medal hockey game on Thursday.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

The what-ifs will plague them for a long time. If Cavallini hadn’t torn her medial collateral ligament a few weeks before the Games, an injury that prevented her from practicing until the team’s third session here, she might have been steadier. “I feel like I didn’t hold it in there for the team today,” she said.

If several players didn’t have to wonder if they’d be able to get through COVID-19 protocols and make the trip they would have been spared considerable stress. If only Decker hadn’t gotten hurt. If only they’d been able to bring in a replacement player, which they couldn’t pull off. So many questions, and no way to know the answers.

“I think [the] way we played today shows the fight, the grit, the resiliency in the adversity that this group has faced and has overcome over these last three years, six months and two weeks,” U.S. captain Kendall Coyne Schofield said. “There’s so much to be proud of. It’s not the result we wanted. It’s not the result we came here to get. But I think when you look at these last two weeks and just the adversity we’ve faced …. We were able to overcome those.”

The other winner here was women’s hockey. This tournament was a compelling showcase for a game that will advance only if sports federations outside of the U.S. and Canada devote resources to developing players’ skills. The U.S.-Canada rivalry is riveting, but it can’t carry the sport forever and it shouldn’t have to.

For Coyne Schofield, who was inspired to become an Olympian when she was allowed to hold the gold medal of 1998 champion Cammi Granato, the tournament is over but the bigger struggle continues.

“I know there’s a lot of young girls watching back home, and I hope …. ” she said before giving way to sobs and pausing. “Women’s hockey cannot be silenced after these two weeks. They need to be able to see themselves in us and it can’t be silent. It can’t just not be visible because it’s not the Olympic Games. We need to continue to push for visibility. We need to continue to fight for women’s hockey because it’s not good enough. It can’t end after the Olympic Games.”