Analysis

The 3 certainties in life: Death, taxes, and a golden goal from Marie-Philip Poulin

Marie-Philip Poulin scored two goals, including the game winner, to lead Canada to the Olympic gold medal. If that sounds familiar, it's because she's now done it three times. As Kirsten Whelan writes, Poulin has made a career of stepping up in the biggest moments, and capping off the Canadians' undefeated tournament in Beijing was no different.

Canada's 'Captain Clutch' has 3 game-winning goals in Olympic women's hockey finals

Marie-Philip Poulin, left, celebrates with her teammates after being presented with the women's hockey gold medals on Thursday at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games at Wukesong Sports Centre. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Marie-Philip Poulin scored two goals, including the game winner, to lead Canada to the Olympic gold medal. If that sounds familiar, it's because she's now done it three times. 

The 30-year-old centre from Beauceville, Que., has made a career of stepping up in the biggest moments, and capping off the Canadians' undefeated tournament in Beijing was no different. With her performance, she became the first ever hockey player to score in four Olympic finals.

"Trying to describe her is almost getting to a point where we should not; we should just say, it's Poulin," said Danièle Sauvageau, who led the team that won gold in Salt Lake City in 2002 and has coached Poulin in Montreal.

"She is our leader, she is one of the big reasons why we won," offered goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens. "The way she carries herself on and off the ice is truly something special, it's not something that I've witnessed before. I don't know of a more deserving captain to win that gold medal for us."

The Canadians entered the Olympics as the favourites, and spent the past two weeks emphatically proving why. They outscored opponents by a 58-10 margin across seven games, featured eight of the top 10 scorers (including all of the top six), and maintained a 17.17 per cent scoring efficiency.

WATCH | Canadian women's hockey team defeats U.S. to capture gold:

Highlights: Canadian women's hockey team defeats U.S. to capture gold

4 months ago
Duration 5:27
Canada's women's hockey team claims their first Olympic title since 2014 with a 3-2 victory over rival United States.

Canada was strong from the opening puck drop, consistently beating the Americans to the puck and forcing turnovers to generate chances. The Canadians also won 65 per cent of the face-offs, including a game-leading 73.91 win percentage from Poulin.

"They played an amazing two-on-one game, supporting the puck carrier in all three zones," Sauvageau said. "I witnessed strong, organized, intelligent [hockey]. Audacity was there, authenticity was there."

Determination on display

When Natalie Spooner's goal just after the seven-minute mark was called back for an offside play, the fresh start could've swung momentum to the Americans. Instead, the Canadians simply doubled down, with Sarah Nurse redirecting the puck past U.S. netminder Alex Cavallini barely 90 seconds later.

"It was funny," Spooner said. "Nursey came up to me on the bench and said, 'I owe you one, I was offside', and then she goes out and scores."

While Canada's depth was on display throughout the tournament, it was the top line that shone in the final. With five minutes left in the first period, a back-checking Poulin plucked the puck off an American stick, skated into space and scored.

Poulin, centre, is one of more than 200 players who joined the PWHPA when it launched in 2019 (Petr David Josek/The Associated Press)

She added another from a wide angle midway through the second, assisted by linemates Brianne Jenner and Nurse. All three were voted to the tournament all-star team, along with Claire Thompson, who assisted on the opening goal.

WATCH | Poulin scores twice to lead Canada to another Olympic gold medal:

'Captain Clutch' Poulin scores twice to lead Canada to another Olympic gold medal

4 months ago
Duration 1:57
Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored twice and had three points, including the Olympic gold medal winning goal for a third time, as Canada defeated the United States 3-2 in the final game of Beijing 2022.

The stars may have made the difference for both sides, but Canada and the U.S. took drastically different approaches to player deployment. Whereas the Canadians comfortably rolled three lines and used six defenders, the Americans relied heavily on their top six, with seven players relegated to eight minutes or less. Defenders Cayla Barnes and Megan Keller, meanwhile, each spent more than 28 of 60 minutes on the ice.

"You cannot think that you could win the gold medal if you play with four [defenders], no matter who you are," Sauvageau said.

The Americans did mount a comeback attempt, with Hilary Knight narrowing the gap shorthanded towards the end of the second period. Canada withstood a desperate U.S. attack through most of the third before Amanda Kessel ― on the power play with the goalie pulled ― brought them within one, but by that point it was too little, too late.

"I didn't look at the clock too much, not until they scored," Desbiens said. "I saw 12 seconds and I thought, 'Oh yeah, we got it'."

Desbiens made 38 saves in a game where Canada was largely in control, despite being outshot 40-21.

WATCH | Team Canada belts out national anthem after winning gold:

Team Canada belts out national anthem after Olympic gold medal win

4 months ago
Duration 1:55
Watch Canada's national women's hockey team sing a stirring rendition of "O Canada" after defeating the United States 3-2 in the Beijing 2022 Olympic gold medal final.

Sauvageau described this team as the best she's seen, noting that they used the challenges of the pandemic to reinvent their team culture. They also benefited from an investment of resources to support their training beyond the Olympic season.

"The match of the environment plus the players ready to work on the daily basis made this performance happen," Sauvageau said.

Achieving the Olympic gold medal didn't begin this month or this year, but has been the result of a lengthy building process.

"It was a long haul of silvers, and a lot of soul searching in the program," said Jenner, who was named tournament MVP. "This group didn't really shy away from that. We were like, 'Let's be bold, let's be brave as well, and see what we can do.'"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kirsten Whelan has covered women's hockey since 2015, from the youth level through to professional and international competition. She is based in Montreal.

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