Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Knight aces shootout, U.S. nips Canada 3-2

Close hockey game in St. Paul

Hilary Knight Photo by Willy Cook

     The U.S. Women’s National hockey team defeated Canada 3-2 in a shootout Saturday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center at St. Paul, Minn. with Sun Valley’s Hilary Knight scoring the decisive shootout goal.

      Knight, 24, scored the decisive shootout goal and added a pair of assists to pace the Americans offensively.

     U.S. goaltender Jessie Vetter, 28, of Cottage Grove, Wisc. made 37 saves and turned aside all three Canadian shootout attempts for the victory.

     It was the third straight U.S. women’s hockey win over Canada in six meetings during this fall’s “Bring on the World Tour” run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games at Sochi, Russia.

     And University of Wisconsin all-time scoring star Knight has played a big role in each of the three wins.

     Earlier this fall, Canada had beaten the U.S. 3-2, 6-3 and 4-2. But the U.S. bounced back with a 5-1 victory Dec. 12 at Calgary, Alberta, Canada and added a 4-1 fight-filled triumph Dec. 20 at Grand Forks, N.D.

     Commenting after Saturday’s tight win in front of 9,012 fans at St. Paul, U.S. Olympic women’s ice hockey head coach Katey Stone said, “We didn’t have the same intensity as before the (holiday) break but we started getting our legs back and found a way to win. Fortunately, Jessie was a rock back there and she settled things down when we really needed it.”

     Kelli Stack, 25, of Brooklyn Heights, Ohio opened the scoring for Team USA at the 13:54 of the first period when Knight’s wrap-around attempt was stopped by Canadian goaltender Charline Labonte. The rebound came to Stack who was left alone in the slot with an open net.

     With nine seconds remaining in the second period, 19-year-old Alex Carpenter of North Reading, Mass. fought off a defender and picked up a rebound to score a power play goal and make it 2-0.

     Canada tied the score, 2-2, with a pair of goals in the third period but after a scoreless overtime, the U.S. prevailed in the shootout with Boston Blades pro star Knight scoring the lone tally. Knight had spent the Christmas holiday with her family in Maine.

     The win was Team USA’s third consecutive victory over Canada, knotting the rivals’ head-to-head pre-Olympic tour record at three wins apiece. The two teams faced each other at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada Monday, Dec. 30 for the final meeting between the teams before the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

     After Monday’s rubber game of the seven-game pre-Olympic series, the U.S. national team heads to Ann Arbor, Mich.

     There, the 2014 Olympic women’s team of 18 skaters and three goalies will be announced Wednesday, Jan. 1 during the second intermission of the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic contest between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings at Michigan Stadium. The game begins at 11 a.m. Mountain Standard Time.

     Wednesday’s Winter Classic, to be played before a sold-out crowd of over 100,000 fans, will aim to set the Guinness World Record for highest attendance at a hockey game. The previous record of 104,073 was set at Michigan Stadium during a college hockey game between Michigan and Michigan State in 2010.

     After the Olympic team is named, the final month of preparation will feature the Americans skating in a number of scrimmages against Midget teams from around the Boston area. The U.S. national team has trained this fall at The Edge Sports Center in Bedford, Mass. outside Boston.

     Knight has said that the strategy of playing against young high-school aged men has given the U.S. women a chance to experience more skating speed than they are accustomed to. She said the women enjoy pushing the pace and pushing the envelope in playing against the male players.

     Canada, seeking its fourth consecutive Olympic gold in women’s hockey, named its 21-player Olympic roster on Dec. 23 at Calgary. Although Canada’s new Olympic team has less experience than its two previous editions, it includes 12 players who helped beat the U.S. women 2-0 in the 2010 gold medal game at Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

     Women’s hockey debuted at the Olympics in 1998 with the U.S. winning the inaugural gold, then Canada taking the next three Olympic titles.

     The XXII Olympic Games women’s hockey tournament scheduled for Feb. 8-17 at the Bolshoy Ice Dome of Shayba Arena in Sochi, Russia features eight teams in two pools.

     The U.S. is grouped with Canada, Finland and Switzerland in Group A. Opening-round games for the U.S. are Feb. 8 against Finland, Feb. 10 against Switzerland and Feb. 12 against Canada. The four-team Group B includes Great Britain, Germany, Japan and Russia.

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