By Lucas Aykroyd –

Talk about revenge and rising to the occasion. Legendary captain Marie-Philip Poulin stepped up with two goals and an assist as Canada beat the U.S. 3-2 to win the 2022 Olympic women’s hockey gold medal on Thursday. Utterly relentless, the Canadians regained the title they lost to the Americans in PyeongChang four years ago.

“I’m so proud of this group, from players to staff,” Poulin said. “We stayed united since 2018. It would have been easy to go our own way, but to be honest, we put our heads down. We went to work. And it really showed tonight.”

This is one of international hockey’s most intense rivalries, and the North American superpowers put on another memorable show at Beijing’s Wukesong Sports Centre. It was pure elation for Canada and anguish for their archrivals, who got a goal from Amanda Kessel with 13 seconds left to make it close, but couldn’t complete their rally from a three-goal deficit.

“When we finally won, I was crying, happy and relieved at the same time,” said Natalie Spooner, who had a personal Olympic peak of 14 points in Beijing. “The past four years have been tough. The group has been so special. This has been the icing on the cake for everything we’ve worked for. Today it was just about our plan and the way we’ve been playing at this tournament. We were dominant. We played the way we need to play to.”

Canada’s Sarah Nurse added a goal and an assist to set a new Olympic single-tournament points record (18), surpassing the mark (17) set by Hayley Wickenheiser in 2006. With 13 assists, Nurse also broke Wickenheiser’s 2006 record for most assists (12) in one Olympics.

Canada has now won five out of a possible seven Olympic gold medals since the inaugural women’s tournament in Nagano in 1998. The U.S. captured Olympic gold in 1998 and 2018, while Canada triumphed four straight times from 2002 to 2014.

“There’s no quit in this team,” said U.S. captain Kendall Coyne Schofield. “We showed this tonight. We scored with 12 seconds left and we just ran out of time.”

Four-time Olympian and all-time U.S. great Hilary Knight had the other goal for the Americans, who outshot Canada 40-21.

“Obviously we came up short,” said Knight, who paced her team with six goals and 10 points. “We did not get the puck to the net enough. I don’t think we played up to our potential.”

As in Canada’s 4-2 group-stage victory over the U.S., Canadian goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens was outstanding with 38 saves, winning her duel with U.S. starter Alex Cavallini.

“The big thing for us was quality over quantity,” Nurse said. “I know today the Americans had a bunch of outside shots, but when you have the best goaltender in the world in Ann-Renee, you’re not going to score from the outside very often.”

“It’s tough,” Cavallini said. “To get that many shots, I feel like I didn’t hold it in there for the team today. I’m a bit numb right now, but I’m proud of our team for getting that goal at the end. We felt we were right there on the cusp of it, and enough of the bounces didn’t go our way today.”

The Canadians also won their first IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship since 2012 in August in Calgary, ending the U.S.’s hopes of a sixth straight title with Poulin’s 3-2 overtime winner.

These Olympics saw overwhelming Canadian two-way dominance. Coach Troy Ryan’s team went undefeated with a roster including 10 first-time Olympians. The top six tournament scoring leaders were all Canadian. In the final, Canada outdid the Americans with speed, physicality, and faceoff prowess (65 percent to the U.S.’s 35 percent).

“The biggest emotion is happiness,” Ryan said. “The work they put in on a daily basis to make this possible during the last four years was enormous.”

Just past the two-minute mark, the U.S. had the best early chance when Hannah Brandt rang one off the outside of Desbiens’ right post from close range. However, Canada controlled the puck more and the U.S. didn’t record a shot until more than 11 minutes in.

Near the seven-minute mark, Natalie Spooner thought she’d drawn first blood for Canada. Sarah Fillier provided the screen on a long shot by Melodie Daoust, the MVP of the 2018 Olympics and 2021 Women’s Worlds, and Spooner hammered the rebound high into the net. However, the U.S. challenged the play because Nurse was offside, and the goal was nullified.

Nurse, a former University of Wisconsin star, promptly atoned for her error. Off a faceoff in the U.S. end, Poulin got the puck back to Claire Thompson, and her shot from the side boards was deflected in by Nurse in front before Cavallini could react at 7:45. For the Winter Games rookie Thompson, it was her 13th point in Beijing, adding to her all-time Olympic single-tournament record for defenders.

Poulin made it 2-0 unassisted at 15:02. In the U.S. zone, she stripped Kelly Pannek of the puck from behind, circled into the middle, and surprised Cavallini with a long shot that slipped through on the blocker side.

“We call her ‘Captain Clutch’ for a reason,” Spooner said of Poulin. “I’m happy to play with her and not against her.”

This was the fourth consecutive Olympic final in which Poulin has scored. No other player – male or female – has equalled that feat. The Quebec native scored twice, including the winner, in both 2010 (Vancouver) and 2014 (Sochi) and added a single in a losing cause in 2018 (PyeongChang).

When Coyne Schofield took the game’s first penalty for putting the puck over the glass 24 seconds later, it hinted that this might not be America’s day.

U.S. coach Joel Johnson drastically shortened his bench, relying on his top two units. On a rare shift in the last  minute of the first, 22-year-old power forward Grace Zumwinkle, who tied Knight for the U.S. lead in goals (four) at the 2021 Women’s Worlds, tried to jam in a wraparound, but Desbiens locked it down.

“It was disappointing,” Johnson said. “In too many games we were not able to score in the first period. It’s difficult to take because overall we played pretty well and generated good offence, had good goaltending, good defence.”

In the second period, Canada kept coming. Poulin’s stretch pass gave Brianne Jenner a breakaway, but top U.S. defender Lee Stecklein came back and Jenner, who was named MVP with an Olympic record-tying nine goals, fired high and wide. Fillier set up Spooner on a 2-on-1, but Cavallini slid across to stop it with her right pad.

At 9:08, Poulin put Canada up 3-0. Nurse pulled up on an odd-player rush and sent the puck over to Jenner for a one-timer. The puck caromed right to Poulin on the left side and she zinged it home for her 17th Olympic goal of all time. Poulin also had 17 points at the 2022 Olympics, second only to Nurse.

Canadian forward Rebecca Johnston, a four-time Olympian like Poulin, hailed her captain: “She’s just a competitor. She’s someone that thrives in these tight situations. She’s so successful at it.”

The Americans tried desperately to get back into it. Roque attacked the Canadian net with a great wraparound attempt that fell short. Coyne Schofield and Jesse Compher collided with Desbiens. Johnson even tried giving offensive blueliner Caroline Harvey some ice time after benching the 19-year-old ever since the group-stage loss to Canada.

With 1:25 left in the second period, Knight gave the U.S. some life with a shorthanded marker to cut the deficit to 3-1. On a 2-on-1 rush with Brandt, she barged to the net to tuck in her own rebound past Desbiens. 

Knight appeared in her American record 22nd Olympic game, passing fellow legends Jenny Potter and Angela Ruggiero (21 apiece). At 32, Knight, a four-time Winter Games medalist (one gold, three silver), is the oldest U.S. women’s hockey player ever at the Olympics. 

In the third period, the veteran U.S. stars continued to press.

Alex Carpenter, who led the U.S. with four goals in 2014 but was left off the 2018 gold-medal team, put one off the post and then was stoned by Desbiens when she got in tight a minute later. Knight powered to the net on the backhand, but Desbiens denied her as the eight-time World Champion knocked her net off the moorings.

“We love each other and are willing to go through a wall for each other,” Knight said of her teammates.

It will remain unknown how the U.S. could have fared with superstar playmaker Brianna Decker in the lineup. Decker broke her leg in a collision with Finland’s Ronja Savolainen in the opener. Since the U.S. did not bring a taxi squad to Beijing, nobody ever attempted to fill Decker’s very big skates.

“Look at the adversity we’ve faced,” Coyne Schofield said. “You lose your best player. It never broke us. We stayed through it. We had a lot of grit and it showed what this team is made of.”

Johnson pulled Cavallini for the extra attacker with just over three minutes left. There was added drama when Poulin was sent off for tripping at 18:35. after running over the U.S.’s Cayla Barnes in the neutral zone.

The Americans mounted a furious last-minute push. Desbiens lost her goal stick and Kessel whacked in a rebound. But that was as close as they’d get. The Canadians flooded the ice to throw away their gear and hug one another, while heartbreak was plain to see on the Americans’ faces.

“When the final buzzer went, I was crying and it took me a minute to regroup a little bit,” said Fillier, who dazzled as a 21-year-old Olympic rookie with eight goals, second only to Jenner, and 11 points. “It still doesn’t seem real to have this gold medal around my neck and it’s such a special feeling.”

This was the sixth out of seven Olympic finals with a Canada-U.S. matchup. The lone exception was 2006, when Canada beat Sweden 4-1. In every previous Canada-U.S. final, the margin of victory was either one (2002, 2014, 2018) or two (1998, 2010) goals.

The Canadian women set a new single-tournament Olympic goals record (57) in seven games. The previous high was 48 in five games, set by Canada in 2010.

The road to this epic confrontation wasn’t easy for either side. The pandemic compelled the cancellation or postponement of Women’s Worlds in 2020 and 2021 and created less-than-optimal training conditions. The 2019 dissolution of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) was followed by strife between the PWHPA (Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association) and the PHF (Premier Hockey Federation, previously the National Women’s Hockey League). But getting to Beijing made it all worthwhile.

“Four years ago after our silver medal, I thought it was my last game but I’m really glad I came back,” Desbiens said. “I didn’t have fun back then, and I can tell you today, this is the most fun I’ve had in a while. This group, my teammates are special, and they’ve made the game I love fun playing again.”

In men’s hockey, the only nation to win Olympic gold and World Championship gold in the same year is Sweden (Turin 2006 and Riga 2006). With Women’s Worlds now set to take place in Olympic years for the first time ever, the Canadian women have an opportunity to “do the double” at the 2022 Women’s Worlds in Denmark (Herning and Frederikshavn, 26 August to 4 September). 

An exciting future lies ahead for women’s hockey, both in IIHF competition and in pro leagues. This 2022 gold medal game was another big step toward maximizing the sport’s global reach.