There’s nothing like some late-summer hockey to whet our appetites for the college season that will commence at the end of September. Canada and the United States provided just such an appetizer in the form of a pair of three-game series that concluded by matching Under-18 and Under-22 squads from each country.
The Canadians were victorious at the U-18 level, taking the series two games to one, while their southern rivals made a clean sweep of all three U-22 games. In each case, there was a bit of an asterisk attached to the result.
The U-18s competed in Blaine, Minn. In the first game on August 16, Canada spotted the hosts a 2-0 lead before mounting a comeback and getting the deciding goal by Sydney McKibbon with just over four minutes left in a 3-2 win. One night later, Jincy Dunne scored the eventual game-winner midway through the contest, and the United States added an empty-net goal for a 3-1 triumph to knot the series.
In Sunday’s deciding game, the Americans struck first for the third straight contest, with Amy Menke getting the goal. By the end of the first period, Canada had grabbed the momentum and tied the game, taking advantage of a turnover to break into the offensive zone, where Ashleigh Brykaliuk’s laser found the top corner of the net.
The Canadians remained the steadier team with the puck over much of the final two periods. Hannah Miller gave the visitors their first lead of the day 1:20 into the second period by beating starting American goaltender Alexis Shaw with a shot from the right wing. Canada gained some insurance 6:30 into the third frame when Halli Kryzyzaniak’s power-play shot from the point found its way through new U.S. goalie Sidney Peters and into the net. When Peters made an ill-advised clear of a loose puck back up the slot a few minutes later and Cassidy Carels zipped the puck over her for a three-goal lead, it appeared to be merely the cherry on top of a series win for Canada, as the Americans were having no success solving Kimberly Newell at the other end.
However, Dunne’s unassisted goal from the point started an improbable comeback with less than five minutes to go, and when Gracen Hirschy’s shot from out top eluded Newell as well, just over three minutes remained in a game that was suddenly interesting once again.
Coach Jeff Kampersal elected to pull Peters for an extra attacker just after the ensuing faceoff. American pressure paid off, as captain Dani Cameranesi converted a feed from Sydney Daniels, and the teams were level at 4-4. Five minutes of four-on-four overtime did not produce a verdict, and it was regrettably left to a shootout to decide what 185 minutes of more conventional hockey over three games could not.
As such affairs go, this particular shootout did not disappoint. Sure, neither the Zamboni driver, nor many of the shooters, appeared to have much prior experience with such proceedings, but the action did not lack for drama. Brykaliuk bested Peters’ attempted poke check in round two to give Canada the lead, and Dunne clanked a shot off the pipe and in on a must-score attempt in round three to force sudden-death rounds. The goaltenders held firm over rounds four through six. When Karly Heffernan deked Peters out of position and slid the puck into the unprotected net and Newell denied Cameranesi’s attempt to equalize, Canada could finally celebrate a series win.
The unfortunate part of Sunday’s game was not that Canada triumphed by the 5-4 score — they looked to be the better team for the most part — but the manner in which they were forced to do so. The teams had combined to score five times in the third period, and it is unlikely that resorting to a shootout did much to hasten the conclusion. Given the wayward meanderings of the Zamboni sent out to scrape the ice, it is a safe bet that conventional overtime would have proven more effective.
In any case, each country may have been happy with what it achieved. Canada went home with the series win. Meanwhile, the United States could take heart in a spirited comeback and some seasoning for the young squad.
In the series held in Calgary, Alb., for the older age group, the United States won three straight games by scores of 4-1, 4-2, and 4-3. The question in this instance was why the U.S. roster included so many players who no longer qualified as being under 22.
The U-22 designation is a bit nebulous in any case. No world championship is held for this age group, so the primary competition takes place in January of each year, featuring Canada and a number of European teams, most recently called the Meco Cup. Canada will occasionally roster an above-age player for this event, and the European squads routinely feature players for whom age 22 is a distant memory.
Because the United States does not compete in the January tournament, the primary benefit of the August series with Canada is to gain some international experience for younger players. Some of the U.S. players born in 1990 and before, such as former Mercyhurst Laker Kelley Steadman and former Minnesota Golden Gopher Sarah Erickson (both of whom graduated last spring), have been rostered for few U-22 and senior international events, so their presence here may make sense in that regard. For others, like North Dakota’s Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, who have competed in a number for open-age international tournaments like the Four Nations Cup, the World Championships, and even the Olympic Games, the benefit of having them compete at the expense of younger players is dubious.
Obviously, the presence of the Lamoureux sisters had a huge impact on the scoreboard, as they combined for four goals and six assists over the three games, but it leaves open the question of how a roster made up entirely of U-22 players from the United States would fare versus Canada.