Team Canada bests Team USA in intense women’s hockey exhibition |
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Team Canada bests Team USA in intense women’s hockey exhibition

Joe Sager

It was called an “exhibition” but Friday night’s game between Team USA and Team Canada was anything but friendly.

The women’s hockey teams brought the intensity of a regular international showdown. Team Canada emerged with a 4-1 win at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.

“I think we did everything right today,” Canada’s Victoria Bach said. “We were battling and getting to loose pucks and creating turnovers and creating offensive plays for us. Overall, I think it was a really good game and we have to keep it up going into Sunday.”

Originally, the U.S. and Canada were slated to take part in the 2019 Four Nations Tournament this week in Sweden, but it was canceled. Instead, they decided to hold a joint training camp in Cranberry at the Penguins practice facility.

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“It’s awesome. It’s an incredible feeling when you can represent your country in your country. We don’t get too many chances to do that,” Team USA’s Hilary Knight said. “I just wish we had a better showing. I think we came out flat. It definitely wasn’t our style of hockey that we’re used to putting on the ice and the fans are used to seeing. We’re going to change that for Sunday.”

The teams wrap up their stay with another game at 1 p.m. Sunday at the same site. The exhibitions serve as a preview for the five-game Rivalry Series between the U.S. and Canada, which begins Dec. 14 and lasts through February. That leads into the next major international tournament: the World Championships, which start March 31 in Nova Scotia.

“I think it’s awesome (to play the US). It was a great atmosphere and great energy,” Bach said.

Friday’s game marked the first game between the teams since April, when Team USA stopped Canada, 3-2, in the preliminary round of the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Finland. Team USA captured its fifth consecutive gold at that tournament.

Team Canada opened the scoring 6 minutes, 3 seconds into the contest when Victoria Bach flipped a backhander past Maddie Rooney from the top of the crease.

Sarah Fillier doubled the lead four minutes later when she took Loren Gabel’s pass in the slot and whipped a shot past Rooney.

“Getting on the board right away is very helpful,” Bach said. “We brought a lot of energy. Starting the game with tons of energy helps us build momentum.”

Team USA broke the shutout with 5:29 remaining in the period when Hilary Knight converted from a scrum in front of the goal.

Marie-Philip Poulin restored Team Canada’s two-goal lead 4:12 into the second. On a Team USA power play, she blocked a pass with her skate near the blue line, kicked it ahead and raced toward goal on a breakaway. Her backhander beat Rooney for a 3-1 edge.

Bach added to Team Canada’s lead 2:15 later with her second goal. It gave Team Canada a 4-1 advantage 6:27 into the second.

Team USA had a chance to cut into the deficit late in the second period. With two Canadians in the penalty box, Cayla Barnes ripped a shot from the far point that clanged off the crossbar with 8:55 left in the period. Team USA hit another crossbar on that power play but came up empty.

“I don’t think we prepared any differently (this week). We grinded all week, but just came out a little flat,” Rooney said. “We came out flat. Luckily, we have a chance to redeem ourselves on Sunday.”

On Saturday, Canada will skate in an open practice at 9:30 a.m. in Cranberry, and the U.S. will have a closed practice at PPG Paints Arena at 1 p.m. and host a youth clinic at 3 p.m., which is open to the public.

Former Robert Morris and Team USA women’s standout goaltender Brianne McLaughlin-Bittle, who serves as Team USA’s goaltenders coach, dropped the ceremonial first puck. McLaughlin-Bittle serves as a volunteer goaltender coach for the RMU men’s team, as well.

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