PLYMOUTH, Mich. — The U.S. women’s hockey players threw their sticks and gloves in the air and celebrated, capping an emotionally charged two-week stretch with a 3-2 overtime win over Canada in the women’s world championship final Friday night.
Hilary Knight made the postgame party possible by scoring 10:17 into the extra period to make the Americans winners on and off the ice. After threatening to sit out the tournament, they won a contentious fight with USA Hockey for better wages that will allow the country’s best female hockey players to make a living playing the sport.
“I’m so proud of this team for performing the way we did after battling the way we did off the ice,” said Meghan Duggan, the Americans’ captain. “A lot of history was made.”
The U.S. won its fourth straight world championship title and eighth in the past 10 tries against its rival, which will get its shot at revenge as defending Olympic champion next year in South Korea.
Brianne Jenner tied it at 2 for Canada midway through the third period on a power play after American Kacey Bellamy’s second goal early in the period gave the Americans their first lead in the gold-medal game.
The U.S. had two power plays in the third period with 7:24 and 2:24 left along with another power play early in OT, but the Americans couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities to score a go-ahead or winning goal with an extra skater.
Canada’s Meghan Agosta scored 1:01 into the game, and Bellamy tied it 3 1/2 minutes later.
Nicole Hensley stopped 28 shots for the U.S.
Canada’s goaltender, Shannon Szabados, was tested much more and made 37 saves.
“She was unbelievable,” Agosta said. “She kept us in the game.”
The Americans had said they would boycott the tournament, which would have embarrassed USA Hockey at a tournament held in an arena named after the organization, if they didn’t get more money and perks that their male counterparts get, such as flying in business class and staying at nice hotels. The landmark deal allows them to make more than $70,000 during non-Olympic years and as much as $129,000 in Olympic years, including 2018, when combined with contributions from the United States Olympic Committee.
“We knew that was going to be a bond that was unbreakable,” Knight said.
USA Hockey looked as if it tried to break the unified front of American women, trying to find lower-caliber players to take their spots in the world championship if Plan B became necessary.
“They didn’t want to forgo this opportunity, but they were willing to do it,” Dee Spagnuolo, one of the attorneys who represented the women without a fee, said during the first intermission at USA Hockey Arena. “Every time we huddled up to make tough decisions before and during negotiations, they were united and firm. This team off the ice is so united and in adverse, tense situations in games, it helps them win on the ice, too.”
The U.S. carried the momentum from the win against USA Hockey into the eight-nation tournament by dominating the competition until its rival pushed the Americans into OT.
The Americans were the better team in the end, though, creating lots of scoring chances in the sudden-death period that could have lasted up to 20 minutes. They didn’t need that much time to finish the Canadians off with a second straight OT victory in a world championship gold-medal game.
Knight, who made a no-look, between-the leg pass to set up Bellamy’s second goal, was trailing on a 3-on-2 rush when Kendall Coyne dropped a pass to her and she scored from inside the left circle. In the 2011 world championship final, Knight also scored the gold-medal winning goal in OT.
“She’s one of the best in the world and she comes up big when you need her and the moment is huge,” Bellamy said. “That’s what [makes] her so special. When everything is on the line, she comes through clutch.”
When Knight lit the goal lamp, the jubilant Americans screamed with joy and hugged in a huge huddle.
“Nothing compares to a gold-medal game against Canada,” Bellamy said. “The emotions are so high. The energy in the building was incredible and it was a really fast-paced game and we had to fight to the end.”
The Canadians, meanwhile, skated in the other direction. They rested their gloves on their knees and stared at the ice in silence as a sold-out crowd at USA Hockey Arena roared.
In the beginning of the tournament, Canada struggled before rallying to face off against the Americans as it has done in all 18 world championships. The Canadians opened with a 2-0 loss to the U.S. and a stunning, 4-3 setback against Finland before bouncing back with an 8-0 rout of Russia and a 4-0 win over the Finns in the semifinals.
“We were resilient the whole tournament,” Agosta said.