Bitter to the end

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

Not bitter, huh? Yeah, right.

Anyone who today says the Canada-U.S. rivalry in women's hockey is friendlier than it used to be -- and that's what some players claimed here this past week -- didn't see last night's gold-medal final at the World Women's Hockey Championship.

They didn't see U.S. captain Krissy Wendell bring her stick down on the back of Katie Weatherston's neck, after Weatherston delivered a stiff glove to Wendell's face mask.

"Emotions were running high," Wendell would explain later. "It's a big game."

They didn't see Canadian goaltender Kim St-Pierre put her stick to Natalie Darwitz's throat when she thought the American forward got a little too close.

And they certainly didn't see Canada's Gillian Apps run over American goaltender Chanda Gunn in the first period.

"She's a competitor," Gunn said, not the least bit angry.

Team Canada's biggest player at 6-foot-0, 170 pounds, Apps put her forearm into Gunn and drove her into the goal post. Gunn had the red marks on her neck to prove it.

The fairer sex?

Darcy Tucker couldn't have done it better.

It was that kind of night. More about passion than perfection. Canadian grit and effort ruling the day.

And in the end, a packed house of some 15,000 flag-waving, leather-lunged hosers -- OK, there were a few American supporters in the crowd -- got what they came for: a 5-1 Canadian victory, and a claim to world hockey supremacy, female-style.

"I'm over-the-top happy right now," Pilot Mound's Delaney Collins said, after a post-game ceremony in which most of the crowd stayed in its seats, soaking up the atmosphere. "It's incredible."

Collins, one of the tournament's most dangerous threats on defence, was named to the all-star team, and how's that for redemption after being left off the Olympic roster a year ago?

"That's just the icing on the cake for me," she said. "I'm equally as proud of my teammates. I'm surrounded by amazing hockey players."

And pretty rugged ones, it turns out.

"It started as a really physical game," Team Canada's Sarah Vaillancourt said. "That was part of our plan. It started to get a little chippy."

Vaillancourt wasn't at all surprised Apps was the one who set the tone.

That's nothing new," Vaillancourt said.

"I play against her during the season and she likes to do that sometimes. That's part of her game."

It certainly was part of Canada's. Not that the U.S. was complaining.

"It's Canada-U.S." Wendell said. "World Championship. 15,000 people."

'Nuff said.

Team USA caused its share of havoc, too, hemming the Canucks into their own zone for what seemed like minutes at a time.

Thing is, they always recovered in time to block a shot, steer a pass out of harm's way or simply steal the disk back.

As the second period began, you got the feeling the first goal was going to be huge, either cutting off the Canadian oxygen supply further or releasing some of the pressure.

Leave it to a Winnipegger to solve the problem.

Proving a little luck is a girl's best friend, Jennifer Botterill banked a shot off an American skate blade and past Gunn for the proverbial icebreaker, 58 seconds into the 2nd period.

The backbreaker came at the other end of the 20 minutes, compliments of, who else, but Team Canada captain Hayley Wickenheiser.

Showing off the best wrists in women's hockey, Wickenheiser took a brilliant pass from Collins, used Kim Bechard as a decoy and buried a shot in the top corner, past a frozen Gunn.

Give these gals a 3-0 lead going into the third period and they'll slam the door in your face.

There's nothing polite about it.

And we wouldn't have it any other way.


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