While many women’s hockey fans had a feeling it would come to this, it finally has — on Feb. 16, Team Canada is set to play against Team USA in the gold medal women’s hockey game for the Beijing 2022 Olympics. Let’s look at how the teams are stacking up so far and what they could look like heading into this final game.
Canadian Veterans Leading, Young Talent On Fire in Beijing
From the beginning of the Olympics Games, the Canadian women have swept the floor with each opponent they’ve faced. Their goals-per-game have almost always been in the double digits, and against their competitors, they’ve looked more polished, more professional, more skilled.
Olympic veterans like Marie-Philip Poulin, Sarah Nurse, and Natalie Spooner have been putting up several points per game and leading the team in points too, with 14, 15, and 14, respectively. Each has led their own line to make incredible plays that have more often than not ended in a goal. Their extensive puck handling skill is evident when they crushed Switzerland in the semifinals, winning 10-3, outshooting the Swiss 61-13. And Nurse is leading all women’s players in points with her 15. The team has now scored 54 goals in this tournament, a new Olympic record.
The young talent has also been shining brightly since the games began, with one-to-watch Olympic rookie Sarah Fillier dominating the scoreboard in the preliminary rounds and then showing up into the quarter and semifinals. The forward has eight goals (11 points) — the second-highest on the roster. During the Women’s Worlds, she was on a line with Spooner and Melodie Daoust, and the rookie has proven she’s meant to be there. She may be young, but she has shown up in a big way.
Close behind her is Brianne Jenner, and while it isn’t her first time, she’s the top goal scorer on the team so far and continues to lead offensive plays. Both were dominant at the Women’s Worlds, and in the Olympics, she’s been on the top line with Poulin and Nurse, and they’ve been dynamic, fast, and absolutely deadly. Plus, the forward has tied an Olympic record for most goals scored in a single tournament. She’s elite and essential to Team Canada’s success.
And Jamie Lee Rattray, though 29 years old, is also excelling at her first Olympics. Her dynamite shot will be an excellent weapon against the United States, and her drive will continue to elevate her teammates. She looks like she’s been playing the Olympic stage since she started professional hockey, with her speed and versatility.
JAMIE LEE RATTRAY 🇨🇦— CBC Olympics (@CBCOlympics) February 14, 2022
At her first Olympic Games Rattray is on fire 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/qPA4zuji0v
Each Canadian player has shown up in their own way, contributing to the overall success of the team. Eight of the Olympic tournament’s top 10 are Canadians, and the offense can come from any one of them. The gold medal could certainly be theirs if the roster can maintain its chemistry for one more game.
Team Canada’s Offensive Defense
If one aspect of the team has mattered in the grand scheme of the game, it’s the defense. And Canada has it. And a lot of it. Defenders have been fluid in the zone, confident on plays, and aggressive on the puck when they need to be.
Defenders like Claire Thompson are playing the offensive game too — she opened the scoring in the semifinal game against Switzerland and continues to be solid on the blue line. She’s one of the teams’ top blueliners, with 12 points total. Like Fillier, she’s also a rookie who’s come into the Olympic sphere with a fire under her skates. She also has the most points by a defender in a single Olympics.
With young players fresh for the gold medal game and veterans hungry as ever to secure that win, Team Canada is ready to take on their arch-rivals. They’ll head into that final frame with offensive depth and an ability to start the scoring early. The question remains, though, of whether or not Canada will be prepared to enact their defense under pressure, given they haven’t been tested in their own zone by previous matchups.
Team USA Hungry For Gold
After beating Finland in their semifinal game 4-1, Team USA is also rearing to head into the final game on Feb. 16, especially considering what’s at stake. But Hilary Knight says she’s excited about it.
“You know, I think it’s wonderful hockey. It’s the most beautiful rivalry in sports,” she said. “It gets the best and the worst out of both of us at the same time. And it’s just a wonderful game.”
The forward netted a goal and assist in the game on Feb. 14, and she continues to be the team’s lead point scorer. Her skating abilities, paired with her ability to dangle the puck effortlessly, have kept her on the top line and the ice for power plays. She’s physical, as much of Team USA is. She has nine points going into the final matchup and wants the win.
Their veteran forwards have been pushing the limits, skating their hearts out, arguably saving some of their energy for the gold medal game while still dominating in all other rounds of the Olympics so far. Despite their 4-2 loss to the Canadians in the preliminaries, they still outshot their rivals 53-27 despite not being able to bag those scoring chances. Despite prevailing in later periods, they haven’t scored much in the first period in previous games. Their fate has hung in their last 20 minutes of regulation, which could cost them against Canada.
But they’re not any level below Team Canada — in fact, the teams are genuinely quite even. Much like Canada, which has a 6-0 record, Team USA has only suffered one loss (at the hands of their northern neighbors, of course). And they’re hoping it will be the last of this tournament.
USA Has Aggressive Strategy
It’s not just Knight that has been making a lasting impression on viewers of the Olympic game — Amanda Kessel has also been racking up points for Team USA and has been impressing on both offensive and defensive sides. She’s also second for the highest number of points with seven, tied with Savannah Harmon.
And speaking of Harmon, the defenseman has been an integral part of the team’s solid blue line. She’s put up a couple of goals and has her eye on the puck at all times. And she’s not the only one. Like the Canadians, the United States has an incredible defense. They have dominated in possession and shots-on-goal. In all six games played throughout the tournament, they have outshot all their opponents by a baffling 334-95.
Blueliners Lee Stecklein and Cayla Barnes have been dangerous on the defensive rush, playing a very physical game like Knight. The American forecheck is a force to be reckoned with in this tournament. But since their top center, Brianna Decker was out at the start with an injury, the United States has to consider depth as their weakness.
Despite being aggressive on the puck, they can turn that into leads, even if they haven’t done that so far. If they can manage, their plays could be deadly.
Which Team Will Get The Gold?
It seems like a very tight race between the two teams right now, and no one truly knows what will happen on Wednesday night in Beijing. Last Olympics, losing the gold medal was a massive upset for the Canadians and a huge accomplishment for the Americans. Canada is ahead of the United States in terms of points per player, but that doesn’t mean anything when the final puck is dropped on Olympic ice. The Americans still have a high chance of defending the title they earned in PyeongChang in 2018 if they play against Canada as they did in the preliminary round.
The United States and Canada have played against each other in six of seven Olympic women’s hockey game finals. Right now, Canada has the best power play with 45.45% and the best penalty kill with an 87.1% rate to boot, despite also leading in penalties taken. The Americans stayed out of the box much more often, with 35 penalty minutes compared to Canada’s 64. Their penalty kill is at 76.92%.
Canada has won gold four times and hopes to make this one a fifth, and the United States will be pushing to snag the title once again four years later. Will it be another overtime nail biter? Time to tune in on Feb.16.
Raylene Lung is a journalist based in Ottawa and has a Masters of Journalism from Carleton University. She has previously written for The Victory Press, The Hockey News, Canadian Geographic and most recently worked at CBC Edmonton. She still reads magazines religiously and loves women’s hockey. When she isn’t writing, she is riding her horse. She currently covers the Dallas Stars for The Hockey Writers.