The USA and Canada split their recent pair of games in the 2023-2024 Rivalry Series, both held in Ontario, Canada. Both games were tightly contested and required extra time, with the USA winning the first game 3-2 in overtime in Kitchener. Canada rallied back for a 3-2 shootout win two days later in Sarnia.
To absolutely no one's surprise, the top players came in clutch in both games for their respective national teams. Hilary Knight tallied the game-winner for the USA, and Marie-Philip Poulin scored the lone goal in the shootout for Canada. The USA now leads the Rivalry Series 3-1, with three games to come in February 2024.
USA Wins in Kitchener
After failing to capitalize on an early power-play opportunity, Canada opened the scoring 7:44 in, with Colgate's Danielle Serdachny scoring her first Rivalry Series goal on a one-timer from the high slot off a pass from Julia Gosling at the boards.
The USA killed off another penalty as the teams neared the midway point of the first period, keeping it a one-goal game. The Americans then received goals from Kirsten Simms and Abbey Murphy in a span of just 1:03 to quickly tie the game and then take the lead.
Simms, in her senior national team debut, tied the game on a fantastic wrister from the slot after skating through two Canadian players. Murphy wasted no time tying the game, picking up a short pass at the blue line, skating in and firing off a shot from just outside the circle to Ann-Renée Desbiens' left.
Canada's Emily Clark tied it in the second period, part of a lopsided effort in favor of the hometown team, who outshot their opponent 13-4 in the middle frame and 13-5 in the third. Canada got the goaltender moving in the crease, and amid a crowd in front, Clark chipped in the loose puck.
Both teams had their fair share of power-play chances in the middle frame, as well as in the third period, but the game was ultimately sent to overtime. The difference, as it turned out, would be special teams. Both teams struggled in regulation, with Canada going 0-for-5 on the advantage. Clark was controversially penalized for roughing with 23 seconds left in regulation, giving the USA a prime opportunity heading into the extra frame.
This time, they capitalized. Knight played the hero just 28 seconds in, scoring on the power play off a quick shot fired from the faceoff dot to Desbiens' right after a cross-ice pass from Taylor Heise.
Aerin Frankel made 32 saves, while Desbiens stopped 19 of 22 shots.
Canada Victorious in Sarnia
The power play continued to be a problem for both teams two days later when they reconvened in Sarnia. Canada would once again go 0-for-5 on the advantage, while the USA was 0-for-2.
Canada came into the game with the same lineup, while the USA switched up some of its lines. Most notably, Abby Roque replaced Heise as center on the top line.
After a scoreless first period filled with great saves from both Desbiens and Nicole Hensley, the game finally broke open 8:19 into the second. Kelly Pannek led a shorthanded breakout trailed by two Canadian defenders, with Megan Keller cutting up the ice alongside. Pannek managed to get a pass to Keller through the Canadian players, and she had no problem beating Desbiens.
Alex Carpenter scored one of the most beautiful goals I've seen in a while early in the third, giving the USA a two-goal lead just 4:46 in. Carpenter, coming toward the net, manages to stretch her stick out just enough to tip the puck out of mid-air after the initial shot from Cayla Barnes. Here's a look:
The USA then had to kill off consecutive penalties, including about 29 seconds of 5-on-3, which they did to maintain their lead. That changed when Serdachny scored her second the series just past the midway point of the period, getting Canada on the board after Hensley misplayed the puck outside the crease.
Ella Shelton tied the game at 12:39 with her first goal of the Rivalry Series, scoring bar-down from the slot. Kristin O'Neil tried to take the shot first twice, but fumbled the puck and it slid back to Shelton just behind her.
Early in overtime, Murphy checked Poulin first at the end boards, and Poulin shoved Murphy in retaliation as she got back up. Murphy was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, while Poulin was called for roughing.
Following a fruitless overtime, the teams headed to a shootout. This time, Poulin was the hero (no surprise there!), scoring the lone goal to give Canada its first win of the 2023-2024 Rivalry Series:
Knight, Simms, Heise, Carpenter and Murphy all failed to score for the USA. Serdachny, Emma Maltais and Anne Cherkowski also took shots for Canada.
Desbiens was back in goal for Canada, stopping 22 of 24 shots faced. Hensley stopped 24 of 26 shots in the loss.
The Rivalry Series will wrap up in mid-February with three games: two in Saskatchewan, and one in Minnesota. Team USA will be looking to prevent their fate from last year, when they won the first three games of the Rivalry Series, but then lost four straight. All three will be broadcast on NHL Network, and tickets are on sale now.
(Photo: USA Hockey)