Wickenheiser returns to lead Team Canada to gold medal match

Captain missed much of the world tournament with injury

Team Canada saw the return of captain Hayley Wickenheiser
Team Canada saw the return of captain Hayley Wickenheiser (VancityAllie/Flickr)

OTTAWA — Hayley Wickenheiser, who suffered an upper body injury in Canada’s first game of the tournament against rivals United States, finally returned to the line up to beat Russia in the semi-final round Monday.

“I felt good as the game went on,” said Wickenheiser. “Every shift felt better and better so I feel ready for tomorrow.”

Canada was strong showing great puck control passing the puck around in the Russian net finding many scoring opportunities.

Unfortunately in the first period, Canada could not put the puck past the goaltending of Anna Prugova.

She robbed them of many goals throughout the game with her rapid movement across the crease and her wide straddling toe saves.

Just over 19 minutes into the game, forward Haley Irwin received a pass from defenceman Meaghan Mikkelson, who was circling the net.

Irwin slid it across the ice and past Prugova’s left foot, to open the scoring for Canada at 1-0.

Despite their best efforts the Russian team could rarely get the puck past the Canadian blue line therefore leaving the shots on goal after 20-minutes 20-4 in favour of Canada.

Canada began to capitalize on their many scoring opportunities in the second period, scoring three quick goals in the first five minutes.

Just over two minutes in, Natalie Spooner put away Gillian Apps’ rebound over Prugova’s left shoulder to score the second goal of the game.

Less than a minute later, Prugova lost track of Brianne Jenner’s rebound and before she could recover Marie-Philip Poulin scored her fifth goal of the tournament to make it 3-0.

Russia attempted to slow Canada’s momentum and regroup by calling a timeout.  But it was Jennifer Wakefeild’s shot from the point at 4:29 that put Canada up by four.

“The goalies had played well until that point and I think we just kept coming at them in waves,” said Team Canada coach Dan Church, about the second period. “They tried to stem the tide by taking that time out but I think we just kept the pressure on.”

The Russian team would find themselves on the board, after several strong saves by Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados.

Defenceman Svetlana Tkachyova’s shot from the point found it way to the back of the net, just after the game’s halfway mark.

On a Russian scoring opportunity, Irwin hooked an opponent down as she drove to the net and went to the box.

While short handed, Team Canada veteran Jayna Hefford broke up ice in a one on one opportunity and took a slap shot from the hash marks that passed through the defenceman, and under the Russian goaltender’s glove.

This goal would be later followed with Poulin’s sixth of the tournament with just over four minutes remaining in the second period, putting Canada up 6-1.

Yulia Leskina would replace Prugova in net for Russia in the third period. Canada would then go on to score two more unanswered goals — Meghan Agosta-Marciano’s fourth of the tournament and Rebecca Johnston’s third.

“You never take any team for granted, and any game for granted in a tournament like this,” said short-handed goal scorer Hefford.

“We are happy with how tonight went and now we can focus on a gold medal game.”

Canada advanced to the gold medal game on Tuesday where they will play the USA and Russia will play Finland for the bronze.

Canada vs. United States

The two teams were the projected favorites going into the tournament and are known world wide to be the strongest and most exciting teams in women’s hockey.

“There is no team we like to play more,” said Hefford. “It’s our biggest challenge and our biggest rival.

“We know that we’ve got to bring it tomorrow night if want to win. And if we don’t play our best game we are not going to win. And that is a challenge that any athlete loves.”

In the first game of the preliminary round, Canada came out on top in a shootout.

To do it again, most believe strong passing and good team support on the ice are going to be key.

“I think it’s going to be a big key because we all know they will come fast,” said Poulin.” Just support each other and chip over the boards, I think is going to be a big key tomorrow.”

Wickenheiser expects the Americans to play with speed and attack off the rush.

“I think it is going to be a game of execution and it’s got to be a game of who is going to make the best plays and who is going to capitalize and at the end of the day, goaltending. It’s what it always is.”