GANGNEUNG, South Korea — The Americans and Canadians pushed, shoved and grabbed each other, sometimes from behind, sometimes mask to mask, and bodies were crashing to the ice repeatedly in front of the net.
All of this with no medal on the line, either.
Meghan Agosta and Sara Nurse each scored in the second period and defending Olympic champion Canada clinched the top spot in pool play by edging the United States 2-1 on Thursday in a rough-and-tumble early showdown between the dominant powers in women’s hockey. It could have been a mere preview of the battle for gold expected to come next week.
Genevieve Lacasse made 44 saves, including stopping Hilary Knight at the post inside the final 90 seconds. Brianne Decker hit two posts, the second in the final seconds, before the two rivals ended up in a scrum. Officials reviewed the final play and ruled no goal. The Canadians also had two goals disallowed earlier in a game that showed just how far these two teams are above the rest of the field — and how much they want to beat each other.
“It’s a rivalry,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said of the physical play. “What else would anybody expect?”
Canada coach Laura Schuler was happy with the win, especially Lacasse’s performance.
“She played outstanding for us,” Schuler said.
Kendall Coyne scored the lone goal for the Americans.
Canada and the United States are the only countries to ever win women’s hockey gold at the Olympics. The Americans won in 1998 when women’s hockey joined the Olympics, while Canada is looking for a fifth straight title.
The two played eight times last fall through a pre-Olympic exhibition tour and the Four Nations Cup. The United States won two of the first three, but Canada now has won five straight against their biggest and only rival.
“We’re not worried about it, nope,” Stauber said. “We’re focused on the things that we can control, and certainly those games that we’ve played in the past have nothing to do with our future. Absolutely nothing to do with our future.”
The United States certainly had plenty of chances, outshooting Canada 45-23. Stauber said he was happy with outshooting an opponent nearly 2-to-1 for a third straight time in these games, believing a goalie will break under the flurry.
“It’s just finding a way to finish those Grade A chances that we had, and we didn’t finish,” Coyne said.
The Canadians didn’t sound too impressed.
“I think we did a good job keeping them to the outside,” Lacasse said.
After missing on a penalty shot and hitting a post late in the second, the Americans got on the board when Coyne raced through four Canadians and scored 23 seconds into the third period.
Canada thought it had the first goal of the game with 3:15 left in the first period, but Melodie Daoust and captain Marie-Philip Poulin were in the crease with the play blown dead. The official immediately signaled no goal.
Agosta put Canada up 1-0 at 7:18 of the second on the power play. With Megan Keller in the box for interfering with Poulin, Natalie Spooner in her 100th international game spun and hit Agosta in the slot with a backhanded pass. Agosta’s shot went off goalie Maddie Rooney’s glove and in for the goal. Rooney was in net for all three of the American wins over Canada last fall.
Nurse scored at 14:56 with a shot from the left circle that went off Rooney’s elbow. Laura Stacey appeared to be offside as Canada brought the puck into the zone, but the United States did not challenge.
Officials awarded Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson a penalty shot at 16:08 of the second after Canadian forward Haley Irwin placed a glove on top of the puck in the crease amid a pile of bodies in the crease. Lamoureux-Davidson, who scored the fastest back-to-back goals in Olympic history in the U.S. win over Russia, went too slow and Lacasse easily deflected her backhand shot.
“It’s always a battle, especially playing the U.S.,” Agosta said. “We just got to kind of keep it coming.”