The United States women's hockey team extracted some revenge for losing the Olympic gold medal to Canada by edging their arch-rival 3-2 in a shootout Tuesday to open the Four Nations Cup in St. John's.
Hilary Knight scored the shootout winner and goaltender Jessie Vetter played a stellar game in the first meeting between the two countries since Canada beat the U.S. 2-0 in the Olympic final Feb. 25 in Vancouver.
Vetter made 32 saves overall, including 13 over the third period and overtime before staring down Canadian shooters Marie-Philip Poulin, Megan Agosta and Jennifer Wakefield in the shootout.
Knight was the first American up in the shootout and she beat Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados with a backhand shot. Duggan missed her chance, but the U.S. didn't need a third shooter after Wakefield failed to score.
Szabados was a star of the gold-medal game with a 28-save shutout, while Vetter suffered the loss in February. Szabados played a solid game Tuesday with 23 stops, but Vetter took this goalie duel.
"We always say goalies need to have curly hair and both of us have curly hair, so we've got that going for us," Vetter joked before adding: "It's definitely going to be a goalie battle and I know both of us always enjoy playing against each other.
"It's a competitive rivalry and she did a great job down there keeping her team in it as well. We were able to squeak a couple by and got a lucky bounce here and there. That's the difference in the game sometimes and it went our way tonight."
Jenny Potter and Megan Duggan scored for the Americans in regulation time in front of an announced crowd of 3,892 at Mile One Centre. Poulin and Meagan Mikkelson replied for the hosts with power-play goals in the second period.
Canada hadn't lost to the U.S. since the preliminary round of last year's Four Nations Cup in Vierumaki, Finland, where the U.S. edged them 3-2 on Nov. 6. The Canadians went on to beat them in six straight games, including the Olympic final.
"The Olympics are over. We know that. That win means nothing now," Szabados said. "At the same time, we're here to win the tournament ultimately. This game is done and over. Hopefully we can rebound from it, get back to the final and maybe meet them again."
Canada faces Sweden on Wednesday in Clarenville, N.L., which about 150 kilometres northwest of St. John's, N.L. The U.S. and Finland square off in St. John's. The two countries with the best record in the preliminary round meet in Saturday's final.
Finland, the Olympic bronze medallists, shut out Sweden 3-0 on Tuesday in Clarenville with goals from Saara Tuominen, Karoliina Rantamaki and Michelle Karvinen.
Canada and the U.S. each had 13 players from their Olympic squads in their lineup, but only two of Canada's seven defenceman — Tessa Bonhomme and Mikkelon — played in the Games in February. Those two logged a lot of ice time on the blue-line.
"Any time you have three experienced defenceman retire, we'll feel it throughout the game," Canadian head coach Ryan Walter said. "We know that. We've got continue to grow young defencemen for Canada."
The host's experience on the back end was evident early. The Canadians couldn't recover in time when a strange bounce off the boards behind Szabados flew out to Potter in the slot and she scored just 11 seconds into the game.
Canada played catch-up after that. They couldn't convert a third-period power play into the winner. Mikkelson had a chance from close range in overtime on a cross-ice feed from Jayna Hefford, but shot the puck high.
"There's no doubt we've got to get to the front of the net and finish some more," Walter said. "I give the U.S. some credit too. They really collapsed in front of their net. When the puck got there, it was tough to get a second shot."
The Canadians had four practices together and an exhibition game against a boys' midget triple-A team in St. John's prior to Tuesday's tournament-opener.
Usually special teams suffer with short preparation, but that wasn't an issue for Canada with two goals on six power-play chances. Their penalty skill shut down the U.S. on five opportunities with a man-advantage.
Walter said, however, the shootout was an element his team didn't have time to practice. Agosta was the only one of the three that got a shot right on Vetter and the U.S. goalie stopped that one easily.
"We wanted to try some of our young players who are gifted offensively," Walter said. "At the end of the day, we're here to win everything absolutely, but we need to grow some kids too. Those three players are very gifted and have great hands."
The U.S. held seven-day camp in Brunswick, Maine, prior to the tournament, but didn't have their full team together until Friday's exhibition win over Sweden.
Two-time Olympian Sarah Vaillancourt was supposed to play in the Four Nations, but didn't make the trip due St. John's because of hernia surgery. Walter opted not to replace her in the lineup and forged ahead with a dozen forwards.
Angela James was honoured in a pre-game ceremony Tuesday in St. John's. The Richmond Hill, Ont., native was one of the first two women inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday along with former U.S. captain Cammi Granato.
James, 45, had 34 points for Canada in 20 games over the first four world championships (1990, 1992, 1994, 1997). Her 11 goals in 1990 still stands as a record.