Round 1 to Canada

ADAM WAZNY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

Afterwards, it was hard to tell which team actually won the game.

Hayley Wickenheiser scored the winner and goaltender Charline Labonte stopped all three shots in the shootout as Canada beat the U.S. 5-4 in qualifying round action at the 2007 World Women's Hockey Championships yesterday afternoon.

A win against Finland tomorrow ensures a spot in the gold-medal game for Canada, while the U.S. needs to beat the Finns tonight (7:30 p.m., MTS Centre) for a chance to defend their 2005 world crown.

Yesterday's game was billed as a dress rehearsal for the gold-medal final on Tuesday, but it was more a blind date for the Canadians. Yes, they faced most of the U.S. team at the Four nations Cup last November, but this American squad seemingly took Canada by surprise, as it was apparent the speed and skill of the visitors caught the home side off guard.

"It was a great game for the fans but from our stand- point it wasn't our best game, for sure," said Wickenheiser, who also scored in regulation and added two assists. "To come out of it with a win, we'll take it."

Her comments seemed to echo a lot of what the Canadian players were feeling.

"I thought we played average," said Pilot Mound-native and Canadian defenceman Delaney Collins. "At times we were good and at times we were breaking down and we were having to change the pace from playing Switzerland and Germany. At this point, at this level there are no excuses."

After Kelly Bechard scored early to give the Canadians the lead, the U.S. stormed back. First, Jenny Potter picked the pocket of defenceman Colleen Sostorics, passed it over to Kristin King and jumped on the rebound at 7:49 of the first period. The young Americans took the lead 10 minutes later when captain Krissy Wendell deflected a Natalie Darwitz shot past Labonte.

Canada tied the score on a two-player advantage at the 3:21 mark of the second, when Sarah Vaillancourt chipped a rebound over U.S. 'keeper Jessie Vetter. That capped off a steady stream of Canadian pressure, as the Canucks seemed to address the lack of urgency in the first.

Gigi Marvin and Darwitz gave the Americans a two-goal lead midway through the game but Canada roared back again on goals by Wickenheiser and Gillian Apps. That brought the 15,003 (a women's tournament record) at the MTS Centre to their feet. After a scoreless third and a 10-minute overtime session, the game went to a shootout.

"We outplayed Canada," American forward Jenny Potter said. "We're pretty proud of how our team played. It's a lot of new players. It's tough to lose, for a lot of them it's a new experience, a lot of them never played Canada before -- especially with this crowd."

"It was a dress rehearsal for both sides," added Darwitz. "If we match up again, it will be another barn-burner."

Labonte made 25 saves for the victory, while Vetter turned aside 26 shots.

The pink jerseys worn by the Canada yesterday -- which paid tribute to the 1990 national women's team -- are being auctioned on EBay to raise money for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.


Videos

Photos