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USA beats Canada in OT, but real winner is women's hockey

The 2016 Women's World Championship gold medal game was one of the most exciting 1-0 games you'll ever see

Chris Tanouye

The only bad thing you could say about the Women's World Championship's gold-medal game between the United States and Canada was that it happened to be on April 4.

Hours before Canada and the US went into overtime, the NCAA men's basketball tournament had one of its greatest finishes ever. And this morning, when people wake up, that will be the front-page story. But in reality, Monday night had two of the greatest sports finishes you have ever seen.

The game was 0-0 heading into the overtime period, but there is no one who will say that the game was boring because it lacked goals. Both teams had tons of scoring chances, and it introduced goaltenders Emerance Maschmeyer and Alex Rigsby to a world audience.

The two netminders were fantastic, and even on Alex Carpenter's game-winning goal, Maschmeyer cannot be at fault. The Megan Bozek shot deflected off of Jocelyne Lamoureux, went off the post and fell behind the Canadian goalie, where Carpenter picked it up.

Canada had their chances to convert. They had two power plays in overtime, but Rigsby came up big every time. The USA goal came right after a failed power play of their own.

The Olympic gold medal game in Sochi is often said to be one of the best hockey games ever, but this may have been even better. Some will say the stakes at the Olympics are higher, and they may be, but don't discount the Women's World Championship. Unlike its male counterpart, it is a best-on-best tournament. We don't discount the Stanley Cup, Clarkson Cup or Isobel Cup just because it's given every year.

In fact, the last three championship games between the USA and Canada at best-on-best competitions have been outstanding: Sochi in 2014; last year's World Championship final, in which Canada tied the game 5-5 after being down 5-1, and; this year's overtime classic. It is a winner-take-all final, and for drama and good hockey, you can't do any better. Each game was tied in the third period. Two of the three went to overtime.

Women's hockey has faced — and still faces — an uphill battle. Players have been forgotten between their outstanding Olympic performances, which is not unique among amateur athletics. However, due in part to the success and popularity of the CWHL and NWHL, it is beginning to shift. People care about the regular season. And that puts more attention on the World Championship, and the USA-Canada matchups rarely disappoint.

Hockey fans were enthralled by the game. The spectacle was converting people in real time. Who wouldn't want to see the drama that is overtime in any hockey game? The speed and back-and-forth action was the game's best aspect. That'll get first-time viewers to come back. It wasn't 0-0 because of a tedious trap game. It was 0-0 because of the goaltending.

Sure there are differences between men's and women's hockey. That's just normal. But in the end it's still hockey. And more and more people are starting to realize that.

The best part is that a significant number of these players will be around for a while. Maschmeyer just finished her NCAA career and will likely be in the NWHL (drafted seventh overall by the Boston Pride last summer) or CWHL (yet to be drafted) next year. One of Canada's most impressive defenders, Halli Krzyzaniak, is only a junior at the University of North Dakota. Eight players on Team USA played in the NCAA last season, and have many years of international competition ahead of them.

People are no longer only aware of the Olympic superstars like Charline Labonté, Hayley Wickenheiser, Hilary Knight, or Brianna Decker. With performances like these, people now recognize the name Emerance Maschmeyer and Alex Carpenter. Women's hockey has become a topic of conversation throughout hockey season, not just every four years, and not only at the World Championship.

The best way to draw people in is by engaging them organically. Nationally televised classics like the one these two teams played last night do the trick.

People reacted to Canada's loss with real disappointment. And while some turned their attention quickly to Canada's Olympic success, I'm not sure they would have done the same had Canada won. And that's a good thing.