Road To The Olympic Games

Hockey·Analysis

Canada's women haven't figured out how to consistently beat American rivals

Americans are favoured by many to win the gold medal in Pyeongchang and have now won the past three Four Nations Cups as well as the past three world championships.

U.S. cruises to 3rd straight Four Nations Cup victory ahead of Pyeongchang

Canada's Jillian Saulnier (11), center, fights for the puck with United States' Kacey Bellamy (22), right, during the first period. (Willie J. Allen Jr./The Associated Press)

TAMPA BAY — It's back to the drawing board for the Canadian women's Olympic hockey team. And time is now a huge factor.

With the 2018 Winter Olympic women's hockey tournament in Pyeongchang, South Korea set to begin Feb. 10, the Canadians still have not figured out how to consistently beat the United States.

That was supremely evident in Sunday's 5-1 loss to the Americans in the gold medal game of the Four Nations Cup at Amalie Arena, home of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning. The Olympic tournament runs between Feb. 10-22.

Team USA, which is favoured by many to win the gold medal in Pyeongchang, has now won the past three Four Nations Cups as well as the past three world championships.

United States players celebrate their win after the third period of the Four Nations Cup championship hockey game against Canada. (Willie J. Allen Jr./The Associated Press)

It should be noted that Team Canada elected not to play their probable Olympic starting goalie, Shannon Szabados, in the tournament, electing to go with Geneviève Lacasse and Ann-Rénee Desbiens instead. However, goaltending wasn't the issue in Florida. Lacasse had two shutouts in two starts in the preliminary round.

Close game for 55 minutes

The final was a close game for the first 55 minutes, with the United States building a 2-1 lead. Then Canada ran into penalty trouble, taking three minors in the final 4:49, which allowed the Americans to score back-to-back power play goals 1:43 apart to put the game out of reach.

The casual observer might suggest Canada's lack of discipline late in the game led to its downfall. Making frequent trips to the penalty box late in a close game is never a sound strategy.

United States' Amanda Kessel (28) celebrates her goal during the third period. (Willie J. Allen Jr./The Associated Press)

"We have to be more disciplined in those situations," said Team Canada coach Laura Schuler. "You can't take penalties that end up flipping things around."

There were other problems, though.

Time and time again throughout the tournament, Canadian players passed up golden shooting opportunities to make that one extra pass, looking for the cute or highlight-reel goal. Consequently, Canada wound up missing out on numerous shot on goal opportunities or turned the puck over. When the latter occurred, it often led to an odd-man rush for the opposition.

'It's a little bit frustrating

Lacasse found herself wondering why there weren't more shots by her teammates, not that she was assigning blame.

"It's a little bit frustrating in that sense because I feel like the Americans take advantage of when they have those odd-man rushes and they take those shots and take the inside position," Lacasse said. "That is something we can work on. We don't always have to make the nice play to get the goal. Being a little more gritty, I think, will help us out."

Team Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin, who said she was angry at herself for passing up on a shooting opportunity in the third period with Canada trailing by a goal, agreed she and her teammates need to start think shoot rather than pass when the opportunity arises.

"We have to make better decisions when we have a 2-on-1," Poulin said. "Obviously we want to make the perfect pass, but we've got to face reality that we have to be a little more greedy and put more pucks on the net."

Much has been made of Team USA's speed, but the Canadians proved beyond a doubt they could skate stride for stride with the Americans so that should not be an issue at the Olympics.

Another problem for Canada at the Four Nations Cup was the number of blind passes that went astray as well as rushed plays in the defensive zone that led to turnovers.

Plenty of takeaways

Team Canada defenceman Meaghan Mikkelson said there will be plenty of takeaways from the loss to Team USA.

"Each time we play them we want to win and it's an opportunity for us to learn, but this isn't the Olympics," said Team Canada defenceman Meaghan Mikkelson. "They're a great team and each time they play us they expose our weaknesses. In my opinion, that is a good thing and we're going to keep learning and keep getting better."

As for the Americans, they are sitting sweet with the Olympic Games just around the corner. Team USA has suffered heartbreaking losses to Canada in each of the past two Games, in 2010 in Vancouver and 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

"Any win and any step in the right direction gives our team confidence, momentum and energy," said Team USA captain Meghan Duggan. "Coming off this tournament 4-0 and capturing the championship feels good."

Duggan was asked if the USA's dominance the past three years has caused Canada to play catch up at this stage of the Olympic preparation, but she refused to offer up anything that might light a fire under her team's greatest opponent.

"We like to just focus on us," Duggan said. "I don't want to talk about them and where they are at. I'm certainly happy with our program and where we're at, three world championships and three Four Nations Cups in a row. It gives us confidence going into the biggest tournament in four years."

About the Author

Veteran journalist Mike Brophy has been covering hockey since 1977. A self-professed junior hockey junkie, he has covered the Petes for 14 season before departing to become the senior writer at The Hockey News and held that position for 17 years. Brophy has written five books including his latest, Unbreakable, 50 Goals In 39 Games – the story of Wayne Gretzky’s greatest record.

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