The stakes weren’t quite as high, of course, but Jessie Vetter exacted a bit of revenge on her Canadian goaltending counterpart with a 32-save effort as the United States clipped Canada 3-2 via the shootout in the 4 Nations Cup women’s hockey opener Tuesday night.
Last time they met, back in February in Vancouver, it was Canadian keeper Shannon Szabados hogging the spotlight with a shutout performance as Canada blanked the States and Vetter 2-0 to win Olympic gold.
But it’s a new hockey season, a new Olympic cycle and Vetter came up big in Round 1 as the U.S. beat Canada for the first time in six games dating back to the Olympics, 4 Nations Cup and a pre-Vancouver tournament last season.
“It’s always a big game any time you play Canada,” said the 25-year-old product of Cottage Grove, Wisc., “whether it’s the first game of the tournament, or an exhibition game.”
Vetter foiled Marie-Philip Poulin, Meghan Agosta and Jennifer Wakefield in the shootout, while Hilary Knight beat Szabados, giving the U.S. the win in the international women’s tourney opener before 3,892 fans at Mile One Centre.
Jenny Potter and Meghan Duggan had the goals in regulation for the Americans, while Poulin and defenceman Meghan Mikkelson replied for Canada.
Canada found itself behind the eight-ball early on as Potter stunned the home crowd with a goal 11 seconds after the opening faceoff.
The Americans cleared the puck into the Canadian zone, but it took a weird bounce off the end boards to Potter who saw nothing but an open net as Szabados had vacated her crease to intercept the puck behind the net.
“When you see something like that, you’re able to breathe a little bit and go out there and play hockey,” said Vetter. “The first goal is always huge, and the first save is always huge.”
Canada, to its credit, responded well and pounded the American net for the remaining 59 minutes, but without much luck.
While there’s been some concern over Canada’s inexperienced blueline – Mikkelson and Tessa Bonhomme, both of whom logged tons of ice last night, are the only veterans returning from the Olympic gold-medal team – the Canadians’ inability to finish against the U.S. raised an eyebrow or two.
Then again, this is the first official game for Canada since breaking summer camp in Calgary and nine forwards from Vancouver – 10 if you count the injured Sarah Vaillancourt – remain with the club.
“I think a lot of shots we were throwing on net,” observed Bonhomme, “we were making her look good. They’re good at getting in the way of a lot of shots, so it’s just a matter of us getting our shots off quicker and making sure they’re getting through.
“We need to get people in front and crash the net hard. I don’t doubt the game will go our way.”
Canadian head coach Ryan Walter was a little more diplomatic, opting instead to heap praise on the U.S. goalie.
But, Walter also agreed with Bonhomme, his assistant captain, in that Canada must find a way to get to the net and jump on rebounds.
“When the puck got there, it was tough to get a second shot,” he said. “That’s something we’re working on - getting to the net for that second shot opportunity.
“But we outshot the U.S., and we outchanced the U.S. That says something.”
Canada plays again 7 p.m. tonight at the Clarenville Events Centre against Sweden. The Swedes opened their schedule in the four-team tourney with a 3-0 loss to Finland Tuesday night in Clarenville. The Finns provide the opposition for the United States 7:30 tonight at Mile One Centre.
Canada’s next game in St. John’s is 7:30 Friday night against Finland at Mile One.
The bronze-medal game is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday at Mile One, with the gold-medal tilt set for Saturday night. The drop of the puck for that one is 7:30.
The American roster is missing two high-profile Olympians: captain Natalie Darwitz is reportedly taking a year off from the national team, while veteran blueliner Angela Ruggiero is recovering from shoulder surgery. Also missing is forward Amanda Kessel, the younger sister of Toronto Maple Leafs’ star Phil Kessel. She was supposed to play in the 4 Nations Cup, but recently suffered an injury while playing for the University of Minnesota ... Two of Team Canada’s players had brothers who suited up with St. John’s teams. Gillian Apps is the sister of Syl Apps III, who spent some time with the AHL’s St. John’s Maple Leaf, while Marie-Philip Poulin is the sister of Pier-Alexandre Poulin, who played with the QMJHL’s St. John’s Fog Devils ... Former Canadian national team star Angela James, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame Monday, participated in Tuesday’s opening ceremonies at Mile One and will accompany Team Canada to Clarenville for tonight’s game against Sweden.