Canadian head coach Laura Schuler walked into the mixed zone at the Videotron Centre in Quebec City. She was asked what she thought of her team’s performance in their 5-2 loss in the exhibition series opener against the United States.
She paused. Then she began.
“We played awful,” she said, before another pause. “It was just a horrible performance from all of our players and we’ll address it tonight and make sure we’re better and ready in Boston.”
This was the first of six exhibition games between the top two women’s hockey countries in the world as they prepare for the 2018 Olympics in February. The next game will be Wednesday night in Boston.
“It wasn’t the game that we could play,” Schuler said. “Obviously we’ve played significantly better against them. We have been playing better and that was not a good example of how we can play. It was an embarrassment to our country and we need to be better as we go forward.”
“We were bad from the net all the way out. All of us. We weren’t good.”
“It wasn't the best game for us that's for sure,” said Canadian forward Meghan Agosta, who is preparing for her fourth Olympic tournament. “We're a lot better than that and we just need to refocus.”
The game was 2-1 USA after one period, but the second period ended with the score 5-1 as the United States had three power play goals, one short-handed marker and one at even strength.
Canada has been playing in the Alberta midget boy’s league while centralized in Calgary. The United States, based in Tampa, have also been playing boys teams.
“We get caught up playing our men’s circuits or whatever we’re doing in our respective areas but whenever we can play against one another it’s a great game and it’s the games that you live for and cherish whether it’s your first game or your 100th, it’s just a great rivalry,” said USA forward Hilary Knight.
“It’s always a game that brings out the best out of both teams,” said Canadian goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens. “Today it was more one side than the other and we definitely need to improve that in the next few months before the Olympics.”
The game started off well for Canada, and it appeared that they took the lead. However, after Bailey Bram beat USA goaltender Maddie Rooney, it was ruled that the forward kicked the puck in.
The United States used the reprieve to open the scoring. On the power play about four minutes later, Megan Bozek took a point shot that rang off the post. Knight then took the rebound and put it past Desbiens for the 1-0 lead.
Seven minutes after that, Brianna Decker picked up a Jocelyne Lamoureux rebound to double the American lead.
Brianna Decker jumps on the rebound and puts USA up 2-0 pic.twitter.com/eZ2H50uY1X— Women's Hockey Gifs (@CWHLHighlights) October 22, 2017
“Coming up here and playing the way we did [is a great start],” said Decker, whose second goal made it 5-1 late in the second period. She also assisted on the first goal for a three-point night. “We got off the plane yesterday, showed up today and we’re looking forward to the next game.”
Canada would get one goal back just 1:31 after Decker made it 2-0 when Agosta jumped on the loose puck and took advantage of Rooney slipping to score in the open net.
Meghan Agosta slides it into the empty net and puts Canada back within one pic.twitter.com/uy4aKPyb3e— Women's Hockey Gifs (@CWHLHighlights) October 22, 2017
“I thought I would be able to get a breakaway,” Agosta said. “But when I saw the goalie come out and fall at the right time, I just pushed it past her.”
Only 1:11 into the second period, Alex Carpenter found Annie Pankowski on a two-on-one after Jocelyne Larocque was caught up ice to restore the two-goal cushion. Midway through the period, after an Erin Ambrose turnover, Carpenter would convert a pass from Emily Pfalzer to make it 4-1.
Carpenter scores shorthanded. 4, 1 pic.twitter.com/6mhKJxhhAq— Women's Hockey Gifs (@CWHLHighlights) October 22, 2017
Six minutes after that, Decker would score her second of the game to make it 5-1.
After holding the US without a shot for almost half of the final period, Brianne Jenner found Jill Saulnier with a pretty backhand pass to make it 5-2, which is where the game ended.
A nice feed from Jenner set Saulnier up to score Canada's second goal of the game. pic.twitter.com/0uuW8psPlX— Women's Hockey Gifs (@CWHLHighlights) October 23, 2017
The two teams now have a few days off, and will meet again in Boston on Wednesday. You should expect to see a different Canadian team, and not only because six players were scratched.
“This is obviously something that we’re going to have to continue to look at, how we can be better as we go forward,” Schuler said. “You always get excited to play against the US and that’s not a typical game that we play against them. We just have to be better going forward.”
“You’ll see a different team. You’ll see a team that will play how they can play with grit, determination and pride. And we did not see that tonight,” she continued.
Her players also know there is work to do.
“We need to work on the little things, moving the puck up with speed, burying the opportunities that we have, not letting them get in behind us and getting those scoring chances,” Agosta said.
“We need to give them less respect than we gave them today,” said Melodie Daoust. “We need to really attack a bit more.”
“We play every game like it’s the final,” said Marie-Philip Poulin. “We need to take it one game at a time and find what it takes.”
Although the Americans were the better team on the night, it was a sloppy game all around and they know they also have work to do for the Olympics.
“There were some times out there we needed to be a little sharper, some defensive zone coverage, some better passes out there need to be a little more crisp so we’re just going to focus on those little things,” Decker said.
“Speaking on our behalf and I’m sure Canada’s not much different is we’re looking at this as a starting point and where we’re at for now,” said USA head coach Robb Stauber. “There’s a lot to build on and it is great to get the win against your arch rivals and we’ll take that any day but it’s obvious that there’s room to grow still.”
- Shannon Szabados was “not feeling well” according to Schuler, and Hockey Canada said there would be no other update on the starting goaltender of the last two Olympic Gold Medal games.
In addition to Szabados, Les Canadiennes goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer was listed as a scratch even though she is officially an alternate which likely means that she was the emergency third goaltender. Geneviève Lacasse was the back up.
“We had a goalie not feeling well and I will never go into a game with just two goaltenders for a series or a competition,” said Schuler. “We did that once and a goalie got hurt and we learned from that.”
- Canada's other scratches included defenders Renata Fast and Micah Zandee-Hart, as well as forwards Haley Irwin, Amy Potomak and Laura Stacey. I would expect to see most of them in Wednesday's game. Canada will make five cuts before the Olympics.
- Ann-Renée Desbiens is in some kind of slump. Here are her last three starts for Canada at a best-on-best competition (all against the USA):
Gold Medal Game, 2015 World Championships: Pulled after allowing four goals in the first period
December 2016, Plymouth Series: Injured in first period, missed over a month
October 22, 2017: Allowed five goals on 24 shots.
This isn't to harp on Desbiens. In between those starts she established herself as one of top goaltenders in the NCAA. Sunday in particular was a team effort and she was left out to dry on several occasions.
- Prior to the game, recently retired Charline Labonté was honoured for her time with Hockey Canada. Former teammates Caroline Ouellette and Julie Chu as well as her brother and niece were part of the celebration as was Canada general manager Melody Davidson.