Canada had to find a different way to win a women’s world hockey title after its Olympic triumph earlier this year and world championship gold a year ago.
This edition was a work in progress throughout the tournament in Denmark, but Canada played its best game of the tournament in Sunday’s 2-1 win over archrival U.S. in the final.
The Canadian women won their third major international title in the span of a year after beating the U.S. 3-2 for Olympic gold in February in Beijing, and 3-2 in overtime in the 2021 world championship final just over a year ago.
“It wasn’t smooth. It looked a lot different from our Olympic win and our last world championship win, but I think we’re really reassured when things aren’t as smooth we can find different ways to win,” Canadian forward Brianne Jenner said. “We battled it out and got the job done.”
After a quiet tournament in the scoring department, Jenner scored two second-period goals within a minute of each other Sunday.
Goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens was the calm eye of the storm in the third as the U.S. pushed furiously for an equalizer.
The Canadians were outshot 12-6 in the third period, but they blocked shots with abandon over the final two minutes when the U.S. pulled Nicole Hensley for an extra attacker.
Desbiens made 20 saves for the win, while Hensley stopped 17 shots.
“I think coming into this tournament, we had the confidence that we were the best team in the world,” Canadian forward Sarah Nurse said.
“We really wanted to show that. Winning three gold medals in one year is so special and something I don’t know we’ll ever be able to do again, but it just shows how hard our program has worked, where we are today.”
Canada lost 5-2 in the preliminary round to a U.S. team that appeared ready to reclaim women’s hockey supremacy.
Both Canada and the U.S. returned 18 players from their Olympic rosters.
The Americans seemed to absorb what lineup changes there were quicker than the Canadians, who were juggling forward line combinations throughout the tournament in an effort to find chemistry.
Canada’s execution in an 8-1 semi-final win over the Swiss indicated the defending champions were finding their form.
But the U.S. went undefeated into the final with a plus-47 goal differential compared to Canada’s plus-22, whereas Canada had boasted the high-octane offence in Beijing.
“What we were able to accomplish at the Olympics was extremely special,” Jenner said. “To come in six months after an Olympics, to be able to have a summer of training and get the focus back and try to defend a world title is not easy.
“I think this was one of the toughest ones and we’re feeling pretty good we found a way to get it done.’
In addition to moving the puck quicker and cleaner than it did in the loss to the U.S., Canada also defended more tenaciously in the box between and below the faceoff dots.
Canada’s power play went 0-for-2 in the first period before Jenner converted a third chance in the second. The U.S went 1-for-3 with a man advantage over the back half of the game.
U.S. forward Abby Roque, who scored her team-leading fourth power-play goal of the tournament with less than a minute to play in the second period, accused the Canadians of diving.
“I think they have lots of players who dive around,” Roque said. “I think it’s ridiculous. It’s not the way to play hockey. We play a tough, disciplined game. That’s how we are.
“We want to play physical like hockey should be and they’ve got a lot of players who jump into the boards.”
Canada and the U.S. have met in the final of all but one world championship since the inaugural tournament in Ottawa in 1990.
The U.S. won five straight world titles, as well as Olympic gold in 2018, before Canada’s women heaved hard over the last year on the rope in the tug of war that’s been their rivalry,
“We’ve got to find a way to flip the script,” U.S. captain Kendall Coyne Schofield said.
Jenner’s nine goals in Beijing matched an Olympic tournament record, but the veteran didn’t score in the world championship until Saturday’s semi-final.
“I think my shot percentage was not great earlier in the tournament, but I just kept telling myself if you’re creating chances and have good habits and do something positive when you’re out there, when you work hard sometimes you’re rewarded in the end,” she said.
The 2021 world championship was delayed to August because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The International Ice Hockey Federation introducing a top-tier women’s championship in the same year as the Olympic Games for the first time compressed three major tournaments into just over 12 months.
“Not normal,” said Canadian head coach Troy Ryan, who will coach the Canadian women through to the 2026 Olympic Games.
“I don’t think you usually get three times to peak. It can be exhausting. I feel for this group. They found grit. They’re exhausted without a doubt. You can see it emotionally. They’re drained trying to get up to their top level three times. They deserve so much credit for just sticking with it.”
The 2023 women’s championship will be held in Canada in a city yet to be announced, followed by the U.S. hosting it in 2024. Canada and the United States will also square off in a seven-game Rivalry Series this winter.
The 10-country field in Denmark was minus Russia after it was barred by the IIHF from international tournaments for that country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Czechia reached the final four and the podium for the first time Sunday beating Switzerland 4-2 for the bronze medal. The Czechs were coached in Denmark by Calgary’s Carla Macleod, a former Canadian team defender.