By Chris Johnston, Sportsnet
SOCHI, Russia – There was some history, but not the kind the U.S. women’s hockey team had in mind at Shayba Arena on Wednesday afternoon. When Hilary Knight tipped a shot behind Charline Labonte it was the first time Canada had trailed at an Olympics through 1,075 minutes 34 seconds of game play.
But that didn’t keep Canada from extending its win streak at this event to 18 games – dating all the way back to the 1998 final in Nagano – thanks to a disputed Hailey Wickenheiser goal in the third period. Consider it another layer to the hottest rivalry in women’s hockey.
Wickenheiser had already found Meghan Agosta-Marciano with a gorgeous pass to tie things up early in the third period when her shot trickled past American goaltender Jessie Vetter just 93 seconds later. The only problem was that referee Anna Eskola had clearly blown the whistle before it crossed the goal-line.
However, the goal survived a video review – much to the dismay of U.S. coach Katey Stone – and helped lift Canada to a 3-2 victory in its final round robin game. Agosta ended up providing some much-needed breathing room with a breakaway goal that became much more meaningful when Anne Schleper scored with 65 seconds left.
It was the most significant victory for the Canadian team since Kevin Dineen took over as coach following Dan Church’s abrupt resignation in December. The U.S. had won four straight head-to-head meetings in advance of the tournament and was considered the gold-medal favourite here.
However, the Canadians may have challenged that notion with a strong final period on Wednesday. Their chase for a fourth straight gold medal at this event is clearly alive and well.
The pace of this back-and-forth game was fantastic and both Labonte and Vetter had to be sharp in the early going. But Wickenheiser, who lost her captaincy prior to this tournament, proved to be a game-breaker when the team needed her most.
All of which sets the stage nicely for the expected rematch between these teams in the gold-medal game next Thursday.
Chris Johnston writes for Sportsnet.