For all the focus on the United States’ young and retooled roster, it was who else but Hilary Knight — the team’s most experienced and accomplished star — who played a pivotal role in securing her nation’s 10th women’s world hockey championships gold medal and first in four years.
The 33-year-old Knight scored three times, including the go-ahead goal with 3:10 left in regulation, in a 6-3 win over Canada, and on their cross-border rival’s home soil in suburban Toronto on Sunday.
Apologizing for her voice being hoarse from a celebration that featured the Americans singing a rousing rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Knight broke into a smile and said, “Yeah, it’s been a while.”
The Americans overcame three one-goal deficits and the sting of losing the past three gold-medal meetings against Canada — the past two world championships and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games — to reclaim gold for the first time since a 2-1 shootout win over Finland in 2019.
“It’s hard to beat Canada. It’s hard to beat Canada in Canada, right? So we definitely felt like an underdog,” Knight added. “People are always rooting against us, but somehow we persevere and it feels sweeter that way. ”
Caroline Harvey had a goal and assist, and Abbey Murphy and Cayla Barnes, with an empty-net goal, also scored. The Americans scored four unanswered goals in the third period. Aerin Frankel stopped 24 shots.
With a U.S. roster featuring five players making their tournament debuts, Knight scored twice in the span of 27 seconds to capitalize on a two-player advantage with the game tied at 3.
With Brianne Jenner off for tripping and Claire Thompson penalized 1:11 later for delay of game, Knight snapped in a shot from the mid-slot to beat Ann-Renee Desbiens high on the glove side. Knight made it 5-3 by deflecting in Harvey’s shot from the left point. As for her first goal, Knight tied the score at 2 by converting a 2-on-1 break with Amanda Kessel 8:30 into the second period.
Jenner scored twice and added an assist, and Marie-Philip Poulin had a goal and assist for Canada, which settled for its ninth silver medal, to go along with 12 golds and one bronze. Desbiens stopped 16 shots in losing her first tournament game in 17 career starts.
“I think we’re in a little bit of disbelief now. Not that we don’t know the opponent is a great hockey team, but we believe so fully in our group,” Jenner said.
“I think there’s a lot of moments in that game. You know, I think it’d be easy to put blame elsewhere. But I think we have to look at ourselves,” Jenner added. “I mean we’ve got to figure out a way to hold those leads.”
The U.S. hasn’t defeated Canada with a gold medal on the line since the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. Otherwise, Canada and the U.S. have met in the world tournament’s 21 other gold-medal games.
“They definitely had our number for a few years, so this one feels a little extra special,” Kessel said. “I’ve been on the other side of it where you’re just winning, winning, winning. And you kind of have their number and it’s a confidence thing. So I think this was huge for us.”
The U.S. finished with a tournament-leading 43 goals, and bounced back from a 4-3 shootout loss to Canada in the preliminary round. And they beat a veteran-laden Canadian team that featured a majority of players who have been together since winning in Beijing.
“The message was pretty clear. There’s not a lot you can say in those situations where you can make them feel any better,” Canada coach Troy Ryan said. “I think they’ll learn from this experience and just grow as a group.”
Knight finished with a tournament-leading eight goals, and tied for third with 12 points. Overall, she upped her tournament-record career goal total to 61, while also extending her record point total to 101. Knight also won her ninth tournament gold medal, which tied the record set by Canada’s Danielle Goyette.
The victory also came with Knight filling in as captain after Kendall Coyne Schofield announced she was pregnant last month.
“Obviously not having Kendall here, we felt that it’s sort of like a hole in your heart,” said Knight, who was having difficulty reaching Schofield because of poor cell service in the arena.
“She’s definitely missed,” Knight said. “And we’re happy that we could get this win. And we can’t wait for her to come back and join us.”
The Americans responded each time after Canada scored, with Harvey tying the game at 3 at the 5:40 mark of the third period. Keeping the puck in at the left point, the 20-year-old defender took a few steps in and snapped a shot beating Desbiens on the glove side.
Harvey enjoyed a breakout tournament by finishing with four goals and a tournament-leading 14 points. This capped a phenomenal year for the 20-year-old player, who last month celebrated winning an NCAA title in her freshman year at Wisconsin.
Denisa Krizova scored twice, including the go-ahead goal, and added an assist and the Czech Republic won their second consecutive bronze medal with a 3-2 win over Switzerland in a rematch of last year’s third-place game.
Kiira Yrjanen scored the go-ahead goal 6:48 into the second period, and Finland is returning to Group A in next year’s world championships following a 3-1 win over Sweden on Sunday. The Finns, who have won 13 silver medals and a silver in 2019, bounced back after finishing a tournament-worst seventh last year in Denmark.
—John Wawrow, The Associated Press