Fourteen seconds was all it took. Fourteen seconds into the third period, Team Canada, on its first power play, came barrelling down the ice towards U.S. goaltender Alex Rigsby and slapped one at her, which she gloved down. As she fell to the ice, the puck escaped her and her defenders swept the puck out to the point, where it was grabbed by Laura Fortino. One slap and Fortino went bar-down on Rigsby, scoring the first goal in a tight, baffling, often amazing game.
Fourteen seconds and a goal from Fortino galvanized Team USA, sending them into overdrive for their first action of the IIHF Women’s World Championships.
Team USA began the game looking at a severe disadvantage to Team Canada, nine of whose members played together all season on the Calgary Inferno. USA, meanwhile, had the majority of its players come from five different teams and it took them until well into the third period to figure out how to work together and be effective. There was no question that everyone was working hard; the game was fast-paced and players were flying the whole night until the very end.
But working hard isn’t necessarily working smart.
USA was clutching its stick a little too tightly in the beginning of the game, while Canada wasn’t playing its signature clean skating game. Both teams were overplaying the puck, waiting too long to shoot and giving the goaltender the opportunity to reset and ready themselves for a save. In this fashion the first and second period passed without a goal, but with a huge number of almost-chances.
Although USA drew a large number of penalties (six to Canada’s three), its power play was ineffective throughout much of the game due to a discombobulated mentality and Boston Pride 2015 draft pick and Harvard goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer, who was in net for Canada.
USA simply couldn’t solve the problem of how to score on Maschmeyer…until suddenly, everything started clicking. They began playing a more aggressive system, with both defenders pinching well in and all three forwards collapsing in around the net to deal with Maschmeyer’s absurdly good play.
First, it was Hilary Knight.
Knight, who had been in the thick of things all night, constantly frustrated by Maschmeyer, found an opening to the left of Maschmeyer’s glove on a breakaway. Shooting from the circle, Knight whipped a wrist shot into the back of the net and tied the game up at 9:58 in the third.
The offensively-aggressive system suited Team USA’s play. The game went back to its back-and-forth style until Brianna Decker scored what would turn out to be the game-winning goal, a rebound off a slapshot save by Maschmeyer that Decker redirected back into the net. The goal turned out to be the game winner for Team USA after Knight netted a spare just to ensure her team kept the lead.
Finally, in desperation, Canada pulled the goaltender with less than a minute to go. This backfired when Knight snagged the puck along the boards and sent it scuttling into Canada’s net with only 20 seconds to go, leaving Canada down two and the game nearly over.
At that point the cameras panned over Canada’s bench to show angry, confused looks on players’ faces, who couldn’t understand how or believe that this game, that they thought they had gotten a clinching goal on just 20 minutes ago, had slipped away from them.