Just about every true hockey fan predicted the United States and Canada would meet in the women's hockey gold medal game again at the 2022 Winter Olympics. And as fate would have it, that's exactly what the world got. The two fierce rivals faced off for the title for the sixth time in the last seven Olympics late Wednesday night, and after falling to the U.S. in the gold medal game in PyeongChang, the Canadians reclaimed the gold in Beijing with a 3-2 victory over the Americans.
Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin was a force throughout the final. She netted two goals and added an assist in the tilt, giving her 17 total points through seven games in Beijing. Poulin is the top women's hockey player in the world, and she played like it against the Americans.
With her pair of goals, Poulin became the first player in Olympic history, male or female, to score in four gold medal games.
"It was a group effort," she said after the game. "It was line after line, put pressure (on), and we put it in when it was the right time."
The Canadians came out fast and furious to start the tilt. Natalie Spooner appeared to net the game's first goal early in the opening frame, but the marker was taken off the board after a review deemed the goal was offside. However, Sarah Nurse broke the ice just seconds after the disallowed goal with a redirection of a Claire Thompson point shot off the draw. With her tally, Nurse set the all-time record for points in a single Olympic tournament with 18 (five goals, 13 assists).
"That was the longest game of hockey I've ever played," said Nurse, who is now the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in hockey. "Waking up this morning, we knew that we were gonna finish this game with a gold medal. We just stuck to our plan, stuck to our process.
"This is a dream come true."
Poulin doubled her squad's lead with her first marker not long after Nurse opened the scoring, capitalizing on a U.S. defensive-zone turnover and beating American goaltender Alex Cavallini, who appeared to have lost track of the puck. She later netted her second goal of the game in the middle period after burying a juicy rebound off the pad of Cavallini, putting the U.S. in a 3-0 hole.
The Americans finally scored their first goal of the game late in the second period when Hilary Knight (who else?) slid a rebound past Canada netminder Ann-Renee Desbiens on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush. Knight's tally briefly swung momentum in the U.S.'s favor, but the temporary shot of adrenaline wasn't enough to narrow the gap.
Amanda Kessel got the U.S. within one goal of Canada with a garbage-time tally on a 6-on-4 advantage in the game's waning seconds, but at that point it was too little too late. The Canadians drained the last 12 seconds of the game with ease, and the celebration soon followed.
Despite Kessel's marker on the advantage, the U.S. power play was downright dreadful in the title game and, frankly, throughout the tournament. The Americans managed just seven power-play tallies on 29 opportunities at the Games — an abysmal output with the amount of talent on the U.S. roster. And the loss of Brianna Decker in the tournament opener certainly didn't do the power play any favors.
The U.S. came up short in more areas than just the power play, though. They also missed several quality scoring chances that could have greatly influenced the contest's outcome. Just after the game's two-minute mark, Hannah Brandt missed a wide-open net that would have given the U.S. an early lead. And early in the third period, Alex Carpenter hit the post with Desbiens in complete disarray as chaos erupted all around her.
The Americans ended up outshooting Canada 40-21 in the contest, but without converting on their scoring opportunities, the shot differential was inconsequential.
"I don't think we played up to our potential so that's sort of the bittersweet part of it," said Knight. "We're a great team, but at the end of the day the score didn't show that. Hopefully you take this and you stay hungry and for some of the younger kids in that room, come back with a vengeance or a chip on their shoulder to do better and to do more.
"I love this group entirely and it's always a special moment when you can represent your country on a world stage."
With this victory, the Canadians now have five of the seven gold medals awarded for women's hockey at the Olympics.
Canada is back on top of the women's hockey world, and the U.S. is going back to the drawing board as veterans Knight, Decker and Kendall Coyne Schofield consider their Olympic futures.
For Knight, who's 32, it's a bit too early to start thinking about 2026.
"I don't know," she said when asked if she'll be back for Milano Cortina. "The level of dedication that you have to have in this program and this team is — every single decision you make, it's a lot. It's not something I can commit to right now.
"I like to win, so we'll see."