“The goal since we got here:” Canada down Slovakia, advance to gold medal game at Lake Placid 2023

LAKE PLACID, NEW YORK – Team Canada needed to take a moment between the opening period and second frame, just a few deep breaths and a quick chat about how they could return to their style. 

Canada trailed Slovakia 1-0 in the semifinal of the Lake Placid 2023 World University Games but rebounded through the final forty minutes, scoring six unanswered goals en route to a 6-1 win over Slovakia, clinching their spot in the gold medal game against Czechia or Japan. 

For the first time, Canada faced on-ice adversity in the tournament — and they battled back from it.

“We took a moment and chatted about what we needed to do to get back to our style of Canadian hockey,” said Waterloo blueliner Carley Olivier. “That’s exactly what we did going into the second and third.”

Olivier’s Waterloo teammate,  Leah Herrfort, scored the winning goal, finishing off a chance in the low slot after SMU’s Shae Demale found her on a tape-to-tape pass. All after Montreal’s Audrey-Anne Veillete had levelled the game for Canada on a breakaway five minutes into the second period. 

While Canada had scoring chances in the first period, Slovakia opened the scoring as Lucia Istocyova beat UNB’s Kendra Woodland in the Canadian crease on a quick shot from in the slot. 

Yet, Veillete’s early gold in the second period allowed Canada to play with more freedom. 

“It was a bit of a relief [when Canada tied] because it was the first time we were losing by one goal throughout the tournament, so it got us back on track,” Montreal’s Annabelle Faubert said. “We knew what we had to do to get back to the good habits that we had built throughout the tournament.”

There wasn’t any looking back for Canada after they settled into the scoresheet, cruising to a 6-1 with two goals in the second and four in the third.  The Canadians only fired 11 shots on goal in the first period, compared to 22 in the second. 

Saskatchewan’s Isabella Pozzi extended Canada’s lead to 3-1 just 11 seconds into the third period, sending a backhand on goal that slipped under the leg of Adriana Stofankova before Nipissing’s Maria Dominico fired a shot from the high slot off the crossbar and in to make it 4-1. 

“For us, it was just cleaning up the little things, the little details. We knew we could come back from that, and there wasn’t really a moment of hesitation within our group,” Pozzi said while also scoring her first of the tournament.  “I was planning to just dump it in, and it was a little soft backhand, and it ended up in the back of the net.”

Canadian captain Emmy Fecteau and Olivier scored the fifth and sixth goals for Canada, putting the game out of reach for Slovakia. Woodland ended the night with 22 saves. 

Canada returned to their simple style through the final two frames, as they had done through the preliminary round. Facing a physical and hard-forechecking Slovakian group, Canada couldn’t control much of the play through the first period, losing puck battles and making bad giveaways. 

In the second, however, after settling into the confines of the Herb Brooks Arena, they sorted out their style and took fewer risks but made decisions on the puck that allowed them to create opportunities. 

While Canada faced a troubling situation, they showed the team’s growth over the last 11 days of getting to know each other. Yet, while coming together is a priority, everyone in the locker room has just one goal in mind – gold. 

After all, the building hosting the semifinals and finals is home to one of the greatest gold meals of all time, the USA men’s hockey “Miracle on Ice”  victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. 

(Steve Dykes/FISU Games)

“I’m a big Miracle [movie] on ice fan; it’s pretty cool that we get to be in the locker room and the rink,” Olivier said. “Finally, being here and making it to the big stage with an amazing group of women is awesome.”

On Saturday night, Team Canada will get the opportunity to test themselves with the weight of a gold medal hanging in the balance. They take the ice at Herb Brooks Arena for a second time, looking to come away with a win over Czechia or Japan and a gold medal around their neck.  

“Playing for Canada at the FISU Games has been a goal of mine since I joined U SPORTS and the OUA, so I’m happy to be here and being part of this group is so special,” Olivier said. 

“This has been the goal since we got here, and it’s the next step toward the gold medal.”

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