POTSDAM, NEW YORK – The Canadian women’s hockey team is bound for the medal rounds at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games, and they’ll get to play on the Miracle on the Ice rink of men’s hockey at the 1980 Olympics.
On Wednesday night, in front of a sold-out arena in Potsdam, New York, the Canadians capped off their group stage with a powerful 2-1 win over the Americans in a game that might just be what they needed to push them to a medal.
Team USA needed a miracle; the Canadians ensured it wouldn’t happen.
Indeed, these university players from U SPORTS and NCAA DIII got their first taste of hockey’s most historic rivalry as Nipissing’s Maria Dominco scored the winning goal to power Canada to a crowd-silencing 2-1 win over their southern foes.
“This was an unbelievable game; it’s such a privilege for this many people to take in a women’s hockey game; it’s an opportunity for us to grow the game,” Canada’s head coach Greg Bowles said. “The Team USA and Team Canada rivalry is massive… the U.S. played great, probably the best game of the tournament so far.”
A patriotic buzz filled the halls of SUNY-Potsdam, as fans trickled in adorned in red, white and blue. Most featured stars and stripes, albeit a few with maple leaves. Still, regardless of outfit, there was an essence that this game was different.
When a rivalry is steeped in Olympic history, and fiery quotes such as Hayley Wickehnheiser’s infamous “I hear they had our flag on their dressing room floor. I wonder if they’d like us to sign it,” it’s going to be intense — Wednesday night was no different.
“I don’t want to sound too harsh, but being rivals, it definitely is a good feeling,” Dominico said of scoring the winning goal to eliminate Team USA. “Every game we play is important, but we were really looking forward to this game and playing out rivals.”
Needing at least a point from the game to advance to the medal rounds, Team USA began the game at a frantic pace unlike either had seen through the tournament. The USA’s earlier loss to Japan earlier in the group stage left them all to play for against Canada.
While the two stayed deadlocked through the first 20 minutes, penalties flew around the scoresheet, with five in the first and a few more that the referees turned a blind eye to. Although both goaltenders only faced seven shots, Ottawa’s Aurelie Dubuc and Vermont’s Liz Simmons stood strong.
Dubuc finished the night with 26 saves, while Canada forced Simmons into 33.
With the crowd powering every USA attack in waves of cheers, Canada got the breakthrough shorthanded seven minutes into the second period, as Guelph’s Hannah Tait slid a puck through for Waterloo’s Leah Herrfort who finished past Simmons, sending the few Canadian fans into a frenzy, with the Americans silenced.
“It’s hard to contain your excitement”
“[Hannah] Tait, she’s a really good penalty killer, and I knew she works hard, so I wasn’t shocked when I got the puck, but it was a really nice pass from her,” Hereford said. “It’s the dream since I was little, first to put on the maple leaf but second to play against the USA and beat them and to score is unreal.
“You score a goal against the States in a 0-0 hockey game; it’s hard to contain your excitement.”
In the third, Dominico scored the eventual winner, catching Simmons high over the shoulder at the near post. Yet, Team USA kept their hopes alive with a goal from Providence’s Haley Lunny to cut Canada’s lead to one.
The night ended with 20 minutes of penalties, the most of any group-stage game in the women’s hockey tournament.
As Canada celebrated in their locker room to techno music, they still knew the mission isn’t done yet and won’t be defined by a win over the host nation.
“We’re going to take tonight to recover our bodies, we have a long night of packing, but we’re going to be ready to take them on in the semifinals,” Dominico said. “We had a lot more will to win tonight because of the rivalry, and we got the outcome that we wanted… it was a great atmosphere to be a part of and made the win more special.”
They finished the group stage with a perfect 5-0-0 record and outscored their opponents 31-2. Now, however, the real work begins, as they take on the semifinal on America’s most historic rink, looking to defeat Slovakia in the semifinal before a hopeful final against either Japan or Czechia.
“The fact that we beat them is something we have to be very aware of,” Bowles said of facing Slovakia. “Wounded bears. If you’ve ever gone hunting, the most dangerous bear is a wounded bear, and we have to know that we probably wounded them, and they’re going to come out super hard and wanting to win, and we have to rise to that challenge.”