SC Backstory: Going for gold
It’s been almost a decade since Canada’s women’s hockey team last won gold at the IIHF Women’s World Championship.
For a team that has been synonymous with winning, it’s difficult to believe that 2012 was the last year the Canadians had gold draped around their necks. Hardly any players from that roster remain on the team. Sarah Fillier, one of Canada’s current young stars, was a few months shy of her 12th birthday the last time Canada was crowned world champions.
So, what happened to Canada over the past five tournaments? In a nutshell: four straight losses to the United States in gold-medal games and a shocking upset at the hands of Finland in 2019 has left Canada mired in its longest gold-medal drought at the world championship. (The tournament wasn’t held in 2014 and 2018 due to the Olympics, and last year the event was cancelled because of COVID-19.)
But with the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship set to kick off on August 20 in Calgary, let’s take a closer look at Canada’s results at the tournament since the team’s last championship run.
Head Coach: Dan Church
With the world championship taking place in Ottawa – the first time the tournament was held in Canada in six years – the Canadians were hoping for a boost from the home crowd, but ultimately fell 3-2 to the Americans in the gold-medal match.
The score would imply a close game, but the U.S. outshot Canada 30-16 and largely dominated. Goaltender Shannon Szabados kept Canada in the match until Amanda Kessel scored the winning goal in the third period.
“It’s really hard,” Caroline Ouellette told TSN after the game. “We’re in our country, in front of a great crowd. We wanted to be proud of our effort. I don’t have that feeling right now. I thought we were outplayed, outshot, out-chanced, and it’s not a good feeling.”
Canada had dominated in the run-up to the final. They finished atop their group with three wins, including a 3-2 overtime victory against the Americans. The Canadians finished the preliminary round with a +22 goal differential, 16 more than the U.S. Canada routed Russia 8-1 in their semifinal, while the United States had a much closer 3-0 victory over Finland in their semi.
All the signs indicated a Canadian gold medal, but ultimately the Americans won their fifth world title in seven years.
“It feels like a bad dream,” Hayley Wickenheiser said following the loss.
Head Coach: Doug Derraugh
Canada didn’t wake up from the bad dream in 2015, losing 7-5 to the United States in the highest-scoring gold-medal game in tournament history.
The Canadians were coming off a 3-2 overtime win against their rivals to claim gold at the Sochi Olympics, a game in which they erased a two-goal deficit in the final four minutes of the third period. Marie-Philip Poulin provided the heroics, scoring the tying goal and the overtime winner.
While Canada was feeling confident after winning a fourth straight Olympic gold, it was the Americans who jumped out to a 3-0 lead just a little over 10 minutes into the start of the gold-medal game at the 2015 women’s worlds.
But Canada battled back in a high-scoring second period, falling behind 5-2 before notching three unanswered goals to tie things up. With the game up for grabs in the final frame, the United States ultimately prevailed on goals from Brianna Decker and Kendall Coyne Schofield.
“Our team showed a lot of heart,” said Natalie Spooner. “We were down a lot of goals and we came back… It’s really tough to have lost that game.”
Canada had a lot of new faces on the roster, which had an average age of just over 24. Wickenheiser, the team’s all-time leading scorer, missed the tournament after undergoing foot surgery. Poulin, then 24, served as team captain for the first time at a world championship.
It was also the last game in Ouellette’s storied career. She was originally left off the roster but was brought on to replace an injured Haley Irwin.
“I’m just sad that I couldn’t win for this team,” a very emotional Ouellette said. “We had a great group, we played for one another. I’m proud of everyone. Hopefully they use this as motivation to get better, because we need to get better if we want to beat that U.S. team.”
Head Coach: Laura Schuler
In a reversal of the offensive explosion from the previous year, the final in 2016 was a tight battle, with both teams unable to break the scoreless deadlock for three periods. American forward Alex Carpenter scored 12 minutes into overtime, finding the loose puck that had bounced behind goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer, who finished with 33 saves in the game.
“Maschmeyer – what can you say about her? She played unbelievable. She kept us in the game. Unfortunately, it was a lucky bounce at the end,” said Poulin.
The U.S. spoiled Wickenheiser’s final world championship and another potential home-ice celebration for Canada, with the tournament taking place in Kamloops, B.C.
“It was electric out there,” said Maschmeyer. “The fans picked us up when we needed it and they kept us going for the entire game.”
Maschmeyer, then 21, was a breakout star for Canada. She was named the tournament’s best goaltender after posting a 1.25 goals-against average and a .956 save percentage.
Head Coach: Laura Schuler
With the tournament shifting to Plymouth, Mich., Canada had a chance to repay the U.S. and take the gold on the Americans’ home turf. However, another overtime winner – this time from Hilary Knight on an odd-man rush – gave the United States a 3-2 victory and their fourth consecutive gold medal, and first on home ice.
“It’s all too familiar to us right now,” said Brianne Jenner. “We want it really bad. We just have to figure out what that one missing piece is.”
“Simply put, they score more goals than we do,” said Irwin. “We have to generate way more offence.”
Poulin was the only Canadian to finish in the top 10 in tournament scoring, with six points in five games. Canada finished third in both scoring efficiency (10.49 per cent) and power play percentage (22.73 per cent), and had just one goal from their defencemen in the entire tournament.
The 2017 women’s worlds was both a continuation of a disturbing trend for Canada as well as a concerning sign of things to come. Not only did the Canadians lose to the Americans in the preliminary round – the third straight year where they were defeated twice by their rivals in a single tournament – Canada also fell 4-3 to Finland in its second group game.
It was the first-ever victory for Finland over Canada, but it wouldn’t be the last.
Head Coach: Perry Pearn
After losing to the United States in the gold-medal game at the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018, it was more frustration for Canada at the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championship. Without their captain Poulin, who aggravated a knee injury in a game against Russia, Canada would face a worst-ever finish.
Following another loss to the Americans in the preliminary round – Canada’s eighth straight loss to their rivals at the women’s worlds – the Canadians were set to face Finland in the semifinals. Canada had posted a comfortable 6-1 win over the Finns in the group stage, and after the Canadians jumped to an early 1-0 lead just over two minutes into the semifinal, it seemed like another inevitable Canada-U.S. showdown in the gold-medal match.
But Finland would take a 2-1 lead thanks to a pair of power-play goals. Loren Gabel would tie it for Canada, but the Finns, bolstered by thousands of fans on home ice in Espoo, would not be deterred, and would retake the lead before the end of the second period on a shot from Susanna Tapani that snuck through a screened Szabados.
Goaltender Noora Räty would shut the door the rest of the way, recording 43 saves in a 4-2 win. After the final whistle, Finnish coach Pasi Mustonen kissed the ice at Espoo Metro Areena.
“These other countries are catching up. They want to beat us every time they play us,” said Jenner.
Although Canada would take home a medal after easily beating Russia 7-0 in the bronze-medal match, it was still the team’s worst-ever finish at a major tournament, and the U.S. would go on to claim a fifth straight gold medal, albeit in controversial fashion.