Plymouth — What rust?
The United States Women’s National Team, fresh from missing a weeklong training camp in Traverse City during its labor dispute with USA Hockey, looked sharp, disciplined and overwhelmingly fast Friday in the opening round of the defense of its world championship.
It defeated Canada, 2-0, with goalie Nicole Hensley making 18 saves for the shutout and forward Brianna Decker and defenseman Gigi Marvin scoring goals.
It was a substantial turn of events for the squad from the United States.
Not only did it excel on the ice after a significant disruption to its championship training schedule, due to a 14-day boycott while the negotiating continued in recent weeks, it beat a Canadian squad that handed it two defeats four months ago during “friendly” games.
The U.S. was more synchronized and assertive than in the two friendlies, and it seemed to take the Canadians by surprise.
“Because this is such a strong team off the ice and we have so much chemistry on the ice and we’re all great friends, when we step on the ice, we don’t miss a beat and things just flow,” said defenseman Megan Keller, of Farmington.
The Canadians played with some pace, and both teams remain far quicker than the teams from the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland, which are also in the tournament.
But they could not muster as much offense, with the United States outshooting Canada, 30-18.
Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin said the U.S. was more assertive and her squad struggled to match it.
“I don’t think we got to the game ready,” she said.
“I think we stepped on the ice and we were kind of slow. I think they got the pace right away. I think we kind of didn’t show up.
“The third period was better, but 20 minutes are not going to make a game,” said Poulin, who rifled one off the near post behind Hensley in the third, amid the Canadians’ strongest attack.
“But I think we learned a lesson.”
After a scoreless first period, in which the United States outshot Canada 11-5, the U.S. opened the scoring in the second.
Defenseman Megan Bozek carried the puck into the Canadian zone and circled the net. Popping back out in front, she spun fully and delivered a perfect pass, reversing the flow.
Standing on the top of the opposite end of the crease, to the left of Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados, Decker was poised.
She took the pass and in an instant the United States led 1-0.
“I’m used to playing with Bozek and against her growing up,” Decker said. “So, I just kind of knew what she was going to do.
“I just kind of planned a backdoor.”
Then, at 4:49 of the third, with the shots 21-13 in favor of the United States, Marvin, picked up a loose puck just beyond the top of the left faceoff circle and fired a shot that clipped Poulin and went by Szabados.
With Hensley strong in net, it was all the USA needed.
“It was our focus coming in to be just mentally prepared,” Marvin said. “Regardless of when we started out when we got back on the ice.
“I think it’s just a testament to who we are as people and as a team, that our mindset is just rock solid, right now.
“And that’s what we’re going to continue to build off, moving forward.”
The International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship continues through the gold medal game, Friday, April 7, which is likely to be a rematch of Canada and the United States.
Three other opening-round games were played Friday, with Switzerland defeating Czech Republic 2-1 in overtime, Russia defeating Finland 2-1 and Germany besting Sweden 3-1.
The U.S. plays its second opening-round game against Russia at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, before facing Finland at 7:30 p.m. Monday.
USA Hockey announced that members of the Women’s National Team will sign autographs in the lobby of USA Hockey Arena after Saturday’s game.