When we talk about Marie-Philip Poulin, the word “clutch” gets used a lot.
But after her remarkable two-goal performance against the United States to help Canada reclaim Olympic gold in Beijing by a score of 3-2 on Thursday, it’s probably time we come up with something a little stronger, eh?
Exceptional. Generational. Superhuman. The GOATest of all GOATs… There may not actually be a word that can accurately encompass the greatness of the Canadian women’s captain when it comes to Olympic hockey.
Since making her Olympic debut at age 18 in 2010, Poulin has played in four gold-medal matchups — all against Team USA — and has scored in all four.
With her first-period marker against the U.S., a seeing-eye shot after picking the pocket of forward Kelly Pannek in the American zone, Poulin became the only player — male or female — to score in four gold-medal matchups on the Olympic stage. Her second goal of the game, a beauty assisted by linemates Brianne Jenner and Sarah Nurse, served as the game-winner.
Poulin now has three Olympic gold medals, with all three being won on the power of her stick. Her knack for scoring golden goals — first in 2010, then again in 2014, and now in 2022 — is unlike that of any other player we’ve ever seen. (She also scored the OT winner at last August’s World Championship, because of course she did.)
This is Canada’s fifth gold medal in women’s hockey on the Olympic stage.
And yet, while these 2022 Games clearly brought many familiar sights for Poulin and Canadian hockey fans, it also brought a first for Canada’s humble leader: Her first Olympic gold as captain of this club.
IS THIS THE GREATEST TEAM CANADA EVER?
Looking back at this tournament now, gold was never really in doubt for this edition of Team Canada. Confident heading into Beijing after a perfect outing at the World Championship in August, expectations were high that the national team could regain Olympic gold after bringing home silver four years ago in Pyeongchang.
Offensively, Canada was dominant from puck drop of Game 1 right through to the podium-topping finish of the final, outscoring opponents by a combined score of 57-10.
The tournament’s top six points leaders, and eight of the top 10, are Canadian, led by Nurse (5-13-18). All 20 of Canada’s skaters registered at least one point, showing just how deep this roster is. While veterans stepped up, as expected, we also saw breakout performances by several rookies — like Sarah Fillier, for one, whose all-world talent was on full display and will be for the next decade, at least.
And for a few individuals, history was made. In addition to Poulin’s four-goals-in-four-gold-medal-games feat, here’s who else wrote their names into the history books in Beijing:
Sarah Nurse: Nurse has been an unstoppable force at these Games, her success upon slotting into the top line alongside Poulin and Jenner being one of the best stories of this Canadian campaign. She went into the final with the tournament lead in both assists and points, and she leaves the rink with those leads intact, a gold medal around her neck, and a slice of hockey history.
After opening up the scoring against the Americans in the first period of the final for her 17th point of these Games, she assisted on Poulin’s second-period goal for her 18th — and with that, a new Olympic record was set for the most points by an individual in a single Olympics. That record was previously held by the great Hayley Wickenheiser, who tallied 17 points in five games back in Turin 2006. Four years ago, Nurse made history as the first Black woman to play hockey at the Olympics. Now, she’s the first to win gold.
— THE SHIFT (@theshift_sports) February 17, 2022
Nurse was named to the tournament’s all-star team as one of the top three forwards, alongside linemates Poulin and Jenner.
Brianne Jenner: Nurse’s linemate was on the receiving end of several of her 13 helpers. While Jenner didn’t score in the final against the Americans, her tournament was quite an accomplishment as a whole. Her nine goals in seven games saw her lead the field in the category, tying the single-tournament record set by Canada’s Meghan Agosta and Switzerland’s Stefanie Marty at Vancouver 2010. Jenner was named tournament MVP for her efforts.
Claire Thompson: Canada brought a young group of defenders to these Games, with five rookie rearguards suiting up in Beijing. All five have enjoyed breakout success, none more so than Thompson. The arrival of Thompson, 24, on the Olympic stage has brought an injection of offence from the blue line — historically so. Five games into these Games, Thompson had racked up nine points, setting a new Olympic record for the most points by a defender in a single Olympic tournament. And she didn’t stop there — three more points against Switzerland in the semi-finals plus an assist against the U.S. in the final upped her record to 13. She was also named to the Olympic all-star team as a top defender in the tournament. The future of this blue line is exceptionally bright.
HILARY KNIGHT, ALL-TIME GREAT
All it took was a single stride for Hilary Knight to make history again in the final. Prior to the game, Knight was tied with USA Hockey greats Jenny Potter and Angela Ruggiero for most Olympic games played by an American woman, with 21. Game No. 22 gave her the record all to herself.
And she certainly made it count. Late in the second period, Knight scored a short-handed goal to get Team USA on the board and apply a little pressure on the score sheet.
Amanda Kessel got the U.S. one goal closer to tying things up with just 12 seconds to go in regulation, but the Americans couldn’t complete the comeback.
TRES BIEN, DESBIENS
Four years ago, after suiting up for just a single game in Pyeonchang as Canada won silver, Ann-Renee Desbiens thought she was done playing hockey. She didn’t see a future in the game.
Fast forward an Olympic cycle to Beijing, and Desbiens was back in the crease –and this time, she played a starring role. Just ask the Americans, who faced her twice in Beijing and came out on the losing side both times.
After captivating the nation with her 51-save performance against Team USA to conclude the preliminary round last week, Desbiens did it again with a gold medal on the line. She turned away 38 of 40 shots in the 3-2 victory that saw Team USA outshoot Canada 40-21.
Of course, a Canada-USA gold medal matchup just wouldn’t be the same without some heart-stopping heroics of a Canadian goalpost or two as well. Americans Hannah Brandt, who had an open net early in the first frame, and Alex Carpenter, who was eying similar opportunities in the third, will surely both be replaying their lost opportunities long after returning home. It’s impossible to say how those shots — particularly Brandt’s chance so early in the game – could have shaped the outcome of this one had they gone in.
— Team Canada (@TeamCanada) February 17, 2022
DEPTH & DECISIONS HAUNT TEAM USA
The bad-luck bounces for the Americans weren’t limited to just lost shots. Early in the tournament, the team lost its best player in Brianna Decker — a loss that was felt dearly throughout the Games, particularly on special teams.
The void in the lineup left by Decker also exposed the Americans’ lack of depth compared to that of their rivals from Canada. Compounding that lack of depth were some questionable decisions made by American head coach Joel Johnson, who kept a pretty short bench in this game. Take defenders Jincy Dunne and Caroline Harvey, for example. Heralded as two bright young pieces of the country’s national team future, Dunne sat on the bench for the entire gold-medal game while Harvey barely played. Neither saw any ice time in the semifinal against Finland. Forward Grace Zumwinkle was also used minimally.
While it’s normal to tighten up a bench to only your most trusted players in high-stakes situations, Canada’s out-conditioning of their American foes had the U.S. trying to keep up all game long.
Team USA Goaltender Alex Cavallini told reporters that she tore her MCL on Jan. 14 and wasn’t sure she would even make it to Beijing. She didn’t have a full practice until 3 days after arriving in China, and felt shaky until the medal round.
She’s now a silver medalist
— Laine Higgins (@lainehiggins17) February 17, 2022
The list of what-ifs in this one will likely be long, but it’s clear that this year, this edition of hockey’s best rivalry belonged to Canada.
And now, the clock starts ticking — until they meet again.