- Thanks to stellar goaltending from Nicole Hensley and an overtime strike from Hilary Knight against rival Canada, the U.S. took home the top prize at the 2017 Women's World Championship.
PLYMOUTH, Mich. Capping off an absolutely phenomenal tournament and in true U.S.-Canada fashion, the gold medal game was decided in overtime. And unlike in 2012, the last time this tournament was played on U.S. soil, the Americans came out on top.
U.S. forward Hilary Knight blocked a shot from Canada’s Halli Kryzyaniak on the defensive end and fed the puck to Kendall Coyne who used her speed to beat the defense. Knight followed the play and was in a perfect position to score the game-winner when Coyne fed it back to her at 10:43 of the extra frame.
It was a bit of a perfect ending to a few weeks in which the team rallied unprecedented support for themselves before winning their fight with USA Hockey and getting a contract that allows them to play the game they love and compete at the highest level.
The united front the women presented on social media earned them a ton of support off the ice. If any of those folks were unfamiliar with women’s hockey before and tuned into Friday night’s game they were treated to exactly what makes this rivalry so special—and so good.
“We are one big family. I think we proved that we can handle any sort of adversity. We knew that nothing was going to stand in our way today,” said U.S. goalie Nicole Hensley.
A standing-room-only sold out crowd was mostly pro-U.S.—though there were loud pockets of Canadians—was witness to another in a long line of spectacular games between these two teams.
USWNT forward Brianna Decker said it was an amazing atmosphere to play in.
“The fans were unbelievable tonight. We did it for them and it was great to be able to see how pumped they were for us,” she said. “We were playing for more than just each other.”
Coach Robb Stauber’s focus on a team-first mentality resonates with the players and though not by design, fit in perfectly with the chemistry, togetherness and family atmosphere the players created through their fight with USA Hockey.
“Our goal was to come in on Day One and be better by the end and I think we accomplished that and not just because of a win, but we played really, really hard,” said Stauber.
Both teams pushed the pace, played physically and scored some beautiful goals, but in the end it was Knight that carried Team USA to the gold.
Kacey Bellamy, a blueliner with nearly ten years of experience with the national team, scored USA’s first two goals, but gave all the credit to Knight.
“She comes up big when we need her and the moment’s huge and I think that’s what makes her so special. When everything is on the line, she comes up clutch,” she said.
With years of experience together on the ice both with the national team and on professional squads, Knight and Bellamy know each other’s tendencies. That chemistry led to Team USA’s second goal.
“I’m not a D to step in the play, but I just felt like we had more numbers than them and then I started waiting in front of the goalie and then I saw Knighter get the loose puck so I said ‘I’m going to stay here to see what happens’ and luckily it got on my stick,” said Bellamy. “(Knight) has great vision and I think she knew I was there. It was a great play by her and I just had to be there to put it in.”
Canada got on the board first with a goal just 1:01 into the game, something that could have slowed the Americans and given Canada all the momentum, but it was Bellamy that answered just 3:34 later.
“Yesterday we just said let’s shoot from the point, so I made sure as soon as I got the puck I would shoot and Brianna Decker screened the goalie perfectly and I think it really helped give us a momentum boost,” she said.
In what some thought was a surprising move, Hensley got the start in goal for the gold medal game. She recorded a shutout in USA’s first game of the tournament against Canada and coach Robb Stauber, a former goalie and goaltending coach, said what he saw from her in that first game was ultimately what made him give her the net again on Friday.
“When somebody comes in in game one and pitches a shutout against an opponent of Canada’s caliber, you don’t forget about it,” he said. “She’s a very dialed in kid. Mentally very focused. You know she’s prepared and ready.”
Hensley, who’s played sparingly behind Alex Rigsby in the past, said she was told of her starts the morning of each game, but that she was ready to play whenever the team needed her.
“You never know when your number is going to be called. They told me for a while to be ready because you never know. They felt like I was ready this week and so I was just trying to do the best I could to prove them right,” she said.
Stauber made it clear to Hensley that he was starting her with full confidence.
"Robb told me "You're going to start it, you're going to finish it and at the end of the game."
Hensley played NCAA Division I hockey at small Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO. The program joined D-I in 2011 and is working to build its program, but the program is incredibly proud of its most famous alumna. A group of the coaching staff planned to drive 16 hours round-trip on Friday to be in the house for Hensley’s start.
Motivation for Canada
After a stumbling beginning to the tournament, Team Canada seemed to find their footing in the semi-finals and gold medal game. They played every bit as skilled, detailed and fast as they’ve shown they’re capable of. When the gold medal game so often comes down to a single shot in overtime, there’s not a lot to say.
Coach Laura Schuler with how her team responded in the tournament and how they played on Friday. She also told her team to remember the feeling of standing and listening to someone else’s anthem and keep that feeling in their back pocket for when they need extra motivation.
“It definitely wasn’t the outcome that we wanted. It was one hell of a game. It could have gone either way at any moment of the game. We definitely had our chances and it’s important for us to hold our heads high and don’t forget about this moment. As we go forward with our training, let it fuel us as we go forward,” she said.
Four in a row
This is now the fourth straight World Championship the U.S. has won. Canada last took gold in 2012 in Vermont. The Americans have had a stanglehold on this tournament while the Canadians continue to return the favor in the Olympics.
Room for improvement
If there was a piece of Team USA’s game to pick apart on Friday, it was the power play. The Americans had a player advantage twice in the final minutes of the third period and again near the start of overtime. They were unsuccessful on five different power play chances.
Finland 8, Germany 0 (Bronze Medal Game)
The Finns were hoping for something other than a bronze medal this year, but though the result is the same as in recent years, the context is much different.
Goalie Noora Raty said it’s not a fun tournament until you win a medal, so now it’s fun. But more importantly, Finland proved that there’s now a third team at the top of international women’s hockey, earning a win over Canada and putting a scare into the U.S. in group play.
“It’s a good ending for the tournament. We made a good statement here. We kind of separated from the rest of the Europeans and actually have a chance to play in the finals one day,” she said.
Mira Jaluso, who’s been on the senior national team for ten years, had nothing but positive things to say about her teammates, but admitted that she’s playing to win more than bronze.
“We know that we are at the same level with Canada and U.S. We wanted to prove that we belong. I feel confident that we are much better than the (other) European teams. I think the score proved that; eight goals in two periods,” she said. “Winning those bronze medals is great, but I’m still hungry. I want to be standing in the final game winning something big for my country.”
It’s a start
After all the strides Germany took, the final two games were a frustrating end to the 2017 Worlds, but coach Benjamin Hinterstocker said he was proud of the way his team finished the game and held Finland scoreless in the final frame.
“During the second intermission, we talked about that we had to finish strong. We had to take the third period into the next game. I would say the girls did well,” he said.
Though Germany won’t be at Pyeongchang, it has got a number of games on the schedule and will look to continue to build on what its have accomplished.
The Germans were newly promoted to the top division for this tournament, so they’ll do well to not let their final games define the rest of what they accomplished. Program growth and development is a process and they took another important step down the path.
A few years ago, Hinterstocker endeavored to bring players from their U-18 team up to the senior level to get them experience. Their results in this tournament are a direct result of that choice and it has paid off. They also hired a goaltender coach and are focusing on building from the back. All of these are small moves that effect big change and will help to renew the program in the long run.
Switzerland 3, Czech Republic 1 (Relegation Round)
After losing the first game of the relegation round, Switzerland showed amazing resilience to come back and win the next two games to keep themselves from relegation.
There are wins to take from both the series win and the tournament on the whole, but Swiss forward Alina Muller said that ultimately the team is disappointed with their showing.
“We can’t be happy with seventh place. We wanted to make the quarterfinals. I think we showed that we were a good team,” said Muller.
Despite the disappointment, forward Lara Stalder said she thought there were things to learn from and grow on, including leaving the tournament on a win. They’ll take things from these games and use them to grow as they begin to train for Pyeongchang 2018.
“I thought we came out stronger and put them against the wall right away. We had a little lapse after that but we gathered again and came out strong for the third period. The power play helped us to make a final statement. They were down, you could tell and we just were flying and got it done. It’s still playing hockey and we know we can beat them. It’s a tough game against them but we know that if we play our best game, we can beat them. I think we showed character today and got it done,” said Stalder.