When Amanda Kessel sidestepped a center-ice check from Hayley Wickenheiser, steamrolled into the Canadian zone and whistled a wrist shot over the right shoulder of goaltender Shannon Szabados, it did more than just give the U.S. Women’s National Team its fifth gold medal at the IIHF Women’s World Championship.
It marked the end to a season that no woman has enjoyed since Krissy Wendell in 2005.
After winning the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award and leading her Minnesota Golden Gophers to an undefeated season and second straight national championship, Kessel etched her name on an exclusive list by scoring the game winner in front of 13,776 at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Ontario.
It also marked a level of sweet revenge for a U.S. squad that lost in last year’s gold-medal game, 5-4 in overtime, on home ice in Burlington, Vt.
“I feel it is like revenge. It couldn’t feel any better,” Kessel said.
“We got beat on our home soil last year. To come into Canada and win the gold medal is unbelievable.
“We used our speed and worked hard. It gives us great confidence heading to Sochi.”
After losing to Canada in a shootout to open the tournament, the U.S. cruised through the field, surrendering only two goals while outshooting opponents 144-30.
“We played a determined style of hockey tonight.”
“Really, what matters is how you finish the tournament. I think we played our best game tonight,” said Kessel, who tied Brianna Decker for the team lead with eight points in the tournament.
The U.S. used its superior speed and gritty determination to control the play for much of the game, frustrating Canadian skaters by winning races to the puck while keeping constant pressure on Szabados.
On the defensive side, goaltender Jesse Vetter stopped 14 of the 16 shots she faced, and came up with a number of big saves as the Canadians turned up the heat down the stretch.
“We played a determined style of hockey tonight,” said U.S. head coach Katey Stone. “We really showed up and played great.”
This marked the first time that the tournament returned to Ottawa since the inaugural women’s event was held there in 1990. Since the beginning, the two countries have met in all 15 gold-medal games, with Canada winning the first eight. Since Wendell’s heroics lifted the U.S. to gold in 2005 the Americans have won five of the last seven.
Russia defeated Finland, 2-0, in the bronze-medal game to take home that country’s second medal in tournament history.
With another chapter in this heated rivalry now in the books, both Canada and the U.S. can set their sights on preparing for their next clash on the biggest stage – the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Along the way they will meet at least a half a dozen times, including a Dec. 20 date in Grand Forks, N.D., as part of the Bring on the World Tour.
And while the victory in Ottawa is a good start on the road to Olympic gold, as Kessel said, “What matters is how you finish.”