Editor’s note: the 14th Annual International Ice Hockey Federation’s Women’s World Championships are taking place April 7-14, 2012, at the University of Vermont’s Gutterson Fieldhouse. On day 1 of the tournament, 2010 Olympic Champs Canada lost to the United States, 9-2, their worst loss ever.
Anyone else suspect the Canadians were knocking back some Labatts in the locker room and then found themselves on the ice? “Oh. Ey, guys, the game’s started.” I believe there’s a level at which, while they think the U.S. is a decent team, they never actually expect to lose to them, and in this case it just bit Canada in terms of being mentally ready for a first-round game. In all fairness the injury to Irwin also shook them up, and that’s a pretty big loss for the team if she’s unable to return. There are ways the team needs to improve if it wants to take home gold for the first time in four years.
While the U.S. can’t hope for a similar result in future meetings, there were a few extremely impressive aspects of this win besides the historically lopsided scoreline. The team’s ice vision was excellent. Passes were both creative and accurate. The penalty kill was aggressive in all the right ways. And Annie Schleper was on both special teams. She’s a gem, that one. One can’t say too much about the first line, which I am christening the Twin Stack Line for the moment. The perfect combination of speed and strength. One small area of concern going forward is exactly how dominant that line was, and lack of production especially from the Coyne-Decker-Kessel line. More balanced scoring would be a good preparation for when Canada adjusts.
NOW. Most of the embarrassment for our neighbors to the north came from defensive disorganization. U.S. players were swooping around making them look like a bar league team. Meagan Mikkelson was victimized for a -3 on the night, with an astonishing eight players at -2, including three defenders. While some of that was the U.S. offensive onslaught plus shoddy goaltending by Labonte, whose every rebound went about ten feet, a lot of it was players failing in their defensive assignments and what soccer analysts would call ball-watching and I guess we’d call puck watching. Also: STUPID PENALTIES. The Canadian team mentality is to do whatever the refs let them, so they’re going to take a lot of calls, but a few fewer would have meant a less crazy score in this game.
And finally, Church got outcoached like whoa by Stone. He started the wrong goalie and signaled this wasn’t a crucial game. Szabados is usually an absolute wall against the U.S. and if she’s number one she should play the top opponent. And he basically gave up the ghost in the second by returning Labonte between the pipes. Clearly he’s not planning to use Lacasse in the tournament if he didn’t play her in this game. Instead he contributed to what will be severe trauma for Labonte. That stuff is difficult to overcome in a short tournament. He also failed to help the team adjust during the game, and he absolutely needs to shuffle his lines and defensive pairings going forward.
Although as a partisan I would love to see this type of game repeated, as a hockey fan here is what I think the Canadians need to do. The first line was the one positive, so hold steady there. Wickenheiser and/or Spooner need to be dropped down and either Bendus or Jenner moved up to play with Ouellette. Agosta and Bram should play together and see if that helps on the chemistry front as they were college teammates. Apps could move up as well. In terms of defensive pairings, Mikkelson should eschew matching up against top lines for awhile, but Laroque and Bonhomme were both at 0 +/- which is an accomplishment in a drubbing like this and should earn them credit. Although we all know pure +/- is a crappy stat, it’s all I’ve got at the moment. Fortino led the team at +1 but I’m a bit suspicious of a Cornell defensive alumni in her first worlds, so be cautiously optimistic with her. For the love of God, warm up Szabados going forward. But start Labonte against some cupcake team so she can try and get her confidence back.
All-in-all, a highly unexpected but fun use of five bucks. Canada drops the puck against Finland at 3 p.m. EST, and the U.S. faces off against Russia (we’ll be seeing Brandt get lots of playing time here, I expect) at 7.