Thursday, February 25, 2010

Congrats Canada

Congratulations to the Canadian women's hockey team on taking Olympic gold in Vancouver, defeating Team USA 2-0 at Hockey Canada Place earlier tonight. They dominated from start to finish that included a record 18-0 rout of Slovakia in prelims.

Unlike the semis where both countries won big to reach the highly anticipated final, at least this one was competitive. The difference was two first period goals from Marie-Philip Poulin. The 18 year-old scoring hero beat American netminder Jessie Vetter twice in a 2:55 span on identical shots both to the glove side. That was plenty for surprise starter Shannon Szabados, who stopped all 28 to record the shutout in front of rabid Canadian fans. A great atmosphere which also included supportive Americans rooting on Team USA, who settled for silver against their nemesis.

A huge key to Canada's gold medal victory was their strong penalty kill which blanketed Mark Johnson's women, who took the collar in six chances. That included a pivotal five-on-three early in the second. They moved the puck around nicely but couldn't do what it took to beat a razor sharp Szabados, who didn't find out she was starting until before the game in place of '02 Salt Lake hero Kim St. Pierre. It didn't matter as the first-time Olympian stood up to the challenge and pressure by using a lightning quick glove to stop the Americans in their tracks.

"I looked up in the stands and saw a sign that said, 'Proud to be Canadian,' and that's what I am today," an emotional Szabados said after her pumped up team piled on top when the buzzer sounded making them champs again. "My teammates were unbelievable today. We played a great game, and this is an incredible moment."
Canada's team defense made it tough for the USA to generate the kind of quality chances needed to get back in the game. Despite that, they led in shots by five (23-18) after two periods yet still trailed by a deuce. Johnson's club threw the kitchen sink at their biggest rival in the third, taking risks to try to get back in it. However, Szabados remained unflappable making a nice glove save on Julie Chu's high shot ticketed for top shelf.

The extra pinching by D led to plenty of Canadian opportunities. But Vetter (27 saves) was superb, making quite a few sparklers from in tight to give her country a chance. Her goaltending was exceptional. Unfortunately, her teammates that included long-time representative Angela Ruggiero couldn't slip one past Szabados, who also plays on a men's college hockey team in Alberta.

Getting tournament MVP was top finisher Meghan Agosta, who set an Olympic record with nine goals. The outstanding 23 year-old from Windsor, Ontario earned a primary on Poulin's important insurance marker that came off a faceoff win. In '06, she was also part of Canada's gold medal Torino team- winning gold and two silvers in three world championships as well.

This was also likely the final swan song for legendary Hayley Wickenheiser, who received the loudest ovation during a classy medal presentation that saw bronze handed out to Finland with each player introduced and also given flowers. Not surprisingly, the 31 year-old who's arguably the greatest women's hockey player ever has been a vital part of all three Canadian golds ('02 Salt Lake, '06 Torino, '10 Vancouver). If it's the end, what a tremendous careeer, which would conclude with a bow.

As for the rivalry that reduced quite a few American players to tears before they received their silver medals with great chants of, "USA, USA" from the crowd. Szabados summed it up best.

"This rivalry will never end. It will keep going and going."

Canada's still on top.

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