Canada in unfamiliar territory at women’s world hockey championship

Canadian women look for answers post-upset

PLYMOUTH, Mich. — The Canadian women’s hockey team used Sunday to hit the reset button after opening the world championship with back-to-back losses.

Effort wasn’t the problem. Execution was in Finland’s first-ever win over Canada by a score of 4-3 on Saturday, as well as Canada’s 2-0 loss to the U.S. to open the tournament Friday.

What had been a scheduled day off from the ice for the Canadian players remained that Sunday.

The women rested at their hotel or spent time with friends and family before reconvening later in the afternoon to prepare for Monday’s game against Russia (1-1).

“We’re not getting the bounces that we do, or we have,” forward Meghan Agosta said. “It’s just been tough hockey. We’ve just got to figure it out, come back together as a team today.

“This is a test. This is a test for Canada. I believe in the girls and I know we believe in each other. We have a lot of skill and a lot of talent on this team. I know we could definitely play better.”

The chronic criticism of women’s international hockey is that it’s always a two-horse race for gold between Canada and the U.S.

If Finland’s upset is good for the women’s game, progress just came at the expense of Canada. 

The current tournament format with the top four countries in the world in one pool and seeds fifth to eighth in another was instituted in 2012.

Canada was in the unusual position of being the only team in Pool A without a win after two games.

Getting a bye to the semifinal depends on beating Russia, the U.S. (2-0) defeating Finland (1-1) in regulation and Canada emerging from the three-way tie of 1-2 teams with the highest goal differential.

A doable scenario for the Canadians, but one they’ve never been in before.

“The way the circumstances unfolded last night for us, it’s important for us to get up and realize we’re still in the thick of things,” Canadian assistant coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk said.

“We’ve got one game left against Russia that we’ve got to concentrate on.”

The bottom two teams in Pool A meet the top two from Pool B in Tuesday’s quarter-finals, with the victors advancing to Thursday’s semifinals. The medal games are Friday.

Russia, a 2-1 winner over Finland to open the tournament, has never beaten the Canadian women. 

Finland can finish ahead of Canada in their pool with just an overtime point against the Americans.

The Finns have long played hard and physical and have had the goaltending to steal a game. They’re now engaging and pressuring Canada in all three zones.

Exploiting a Canadian turnover to score first and getting a soft goal from starter Emerance Maschmeyer in the second period was the opening Finland needed.

Both the Americans and Finns forced Canada to the outside to shoot from the perimeter.

Blayre Turnbull’s goal Saturday was a textbook example of what Canada needs more of as she rifled a shot from one knee in the slot off a short, quick dish from Lauriane Rougeau.

“The game against the U.S. and the game last night, give both teams credit. They kept us to the outside,” Gylywoychuk said. “We need to have the will and determination to get inside.”

Canada has yet to score a power-play goal on six chances.

This year’s world championship has been anything but predictable.

The host country and defending champion Americans threatened to boycott the tournament if they didn’t receive more financial support from USA Hockey.

The showdown ended less than 72 hours before the puck dropped with the women gaining significant concessions. Feeling empowered and united, the U.S. has yet to give up a goal this tournament.

Germany, promoted from the second-tier world championship, was atop Pool B with wins over Sweden and the Czech Republic.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press