A range of options now lies before coach Kevin Dineen. He could scream and kick garbage cans to ensure his players don’t let up after their inspired 3-2 win over arch-rivals Team U.S.A. Or he could step off the pedal, confident that veterans on the Canadian women’s hockey team will keep the team focused against lesser opponents in the early playoff rounds.
Or he could hypnotize Meghan Agosta-Marciano before every game and tell her it’s her birthday.
On Wednesday, the tireless forward celebrated her 27th with two goals and an assist against the Americans, a performance that summons to mind the hat-trick she chalked up the same day eight years ago in Turin. That was a wild one—a 12-0 bloodbath against Russia filled with cheap shots and recriminations that stands in contrast to the heroically contained emotion of Wednesday’s showdown at the Shayba Arena in Sochi. Agosta-Marciano emerged from it with the enduring respect of her teammates, and the ability to order a beer in all 10 provinces, but she can be a lot prouder of this one.
It was, after all, a yardstick game. Team Canada had lost three straight games in its run-up series against the U.S., two of which devolved into brawls. And the plain truth was their game looked broken. The giveaways and bird-brained penalties were bad enough, but it was increasingly clear their antipathy for the Americans had begun to cloud their judgement. For once, it was Team U.S.A. getting into their heads.
The upshot of those losses, of all that bad blood, was to set Team Canada on edge. Its veterans looked sluggish heading into Sochi, its youngsters seemed rattled. There were whispers of a team divided after the mysterious departure in mid-December of coach Dan Church, and all eyes turned to Dineen, a former NHLer who walked into a dressing room full of strangers.
Seldom since their gold-medal win in Vancouver has this team looked as unified as it did when it came out in the third period, trailing 1-0. Hell-bent to answer Brianne Decker’s power-play deflection, they poured 13 shots on U.S. goaltender Jessie Vetter, with Augusta getting her first goal just two minutes in. You’ll need the FSB to find out what really got said in that locker room during the intermission—cliché is the one thing female players do as well as males. But there was no doubt about who supplied the grit: 35-year-old Hayley Wickenheiser set up Agosta-Marciano’s first with a nifty pass across the slot, then shoved in her own 93 seconds later to give Canada the lead.
In short, like the best coaches do, Dineen laid the onus on veterans who know the words that work, and how to lead by example. “It a was a collective ‘stay calm, girls, we always play our best in the third,” said Wickenheiser of their discussion after 40 minutes. “We just had to put it on the net and play with energy. I’m really proud of the way the girls played today. They stayed with the plan and they didn’t panic.”
Agosta-Marciano added this, with an astoundingly straight-face: “Going into the third we knew we had them where we wanted them. It’s hard to keep a lead like that. We just had to get one early, just continue playing, and we came out on top.”
To say the least, the Americans didn’t much like that second goal—a dribbler between Vetter’s pads following a goal-mouth scramble. “I did hear the whistle blow before,” coach Katey Stone said afterward, who asked for a video review. “More importantly, I said to our players that regardless of what happens [with the review], let’s be ready.”
Team U.S.A. did launch a last-ditch offensive, aided by Canada’s untimely too-many-men penalty with 31 seconds left. But the shutdown unit of Caroline Ouellette, Brianne Jenner and Marie-Philip Poulin prevailed, and the Canadians left the ice wearing grins.
It was, in short, a symbolic coming together of a team that desperately needed cohesion. And it allows their coach—known during his days with the Hartford Whalers as a clutch player—to turn the page. For weeks, Dineen has pleaded for calm as the world’s the greatest women’s hockey team floundered, saying he was weighing his moves, getting know his players.
Well, today he knows them a whole lot better.
“I’ve had good success working with young players, whether it was in the American Hockey League or the NHL,” he said afterward. “But you have to rely on, and respect, your older players. Certainly our vets stepped up to the plate today.”