No Olympic 'goaltending controversy' as Canadian women net win

Canada opens quest for 5th straight gold with dominant shutout of OAR

No Olympic 'goaltending controversy' as Canadian women net win
Canada's goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens makes a save against the team from Russia en route to a 5-0 shutout victory. © Frank Franklin II/The Associated Press

By Mike Brophy, CBC Sports

Team Canada threw a curveball at the Olympic Athletes from Russia in their opening game of the women's hockey tournament at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

It was assumed by many that veteran Shannon Szabados would be the starting goalie for Canada, having been victorious in each of the past two Olympic gold medal games in 2010 in Vancouver and 2014 in Sochi, Russia, but Canadian coach Laura Schuler opted for newcomer Ann-Renee Desbiens instead.

Desbiens responded by making 18 saves to record the shutout as Canada won 5-0 to begin its quest to win a fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal. Canada peppered the Russians with 48 shots in a game that was never in doubt.

It was Canada's 21st straight win in Olympic competition.

Rebecca Johnston paced Canada with two goals and an assist, while captain Marie-Philip Poulin drew three assists. Mélodie Daoust also scored twice with Haley Irwin adding one goal. Brianne Jenner, Jillian Saulnier and Brigette Lacquette each had an assist.

Watch Canada's Rebecca Johnston go top shelf on the Russian goalie:

Canada will face Finland in its second game of the preliminary round Tuesday at 2:40 a.m. ET before facing the United States on Wednesday in a game that could be a preview of the 2018 gold-medal game.

No 'goaltending controversy'

If starting Desbiens ahead of Szabados seems like an unusual move, it is worth noting that Szabados did not get the start in either of the 2010 or the 2014 Olympic Games, but she came through with splendid performances in both gold medal games. In other words, do not automatically assume there is a "goaltending controversy" for Team Canada just because Szabados didn't get the start in Game 1 of the 2018 Games.

Schuler told CBC Sports that she had faith in all three of her goalies, which also includes Genevieve Lacasse, who did not dress for the opener.

"We have three great goalies," Schuler said. "We can rely on any one of them."

Also, Desbiens was named winner of the prestigious Patty Kazmaier Award as the top NCAA women's player in 2017 after helping the University of Wisconsin Badgers win the WCHA championship and make it to the final of the Frozen Four — so it's not like her resume lacked credibility.

Desbiens was thrilled to get the start and the victory, but said the lack of Russian shots on goal presented a challenge to her.

"It's never easy when you don't get as many shots," Desbiens said. "Sometimes it can be a little harder to stay focused. It's definitely nice to get that first game out of the way and be ready to move on."

Considerable offensive talent

Truth be told, Canada likely would have won against Russia no matter who played in goal. The Russians, like many of the second-tier teams in international women's hockey, checked well, but produced very few quality scoring chances. Certainly not enough chances to have a serious shot at upsetting an Olympic powerhouse such as Canada.

Click on the video player below to watch the highlights:


Canada owned the puck in the first period, playing against an inexperienced team with 17 Russian athletes making their Olympic debut, but failed to score. Despite outshooting the Russians 15-5, Canada really only produced two decent scoring chances – Jennifer Wakefield hitting the crossbar on a power play shot from the slot at 12:16 and Daoust missing on an in-tight deke at 17:15.

That said, it only seemed like a matter of time until Canada's considerable offensive talent took over the game.

Johnston, who entered the 2018 Games with 11 points in 10 Olympic games, got Canada on the board at 1:55 of the second period with a quick shot from the shallow slot off a behind-the-net pass from Jenner.

May need to shorten bench 

Two minutes and 18 seconds later Irwin increased Canada's lead to 2-0 when she tipped a Johnston slapper home. Irwin is a three-time Olympian who has battled back nicely from concussion and hip injuries.

Daoust made it 3-0 at 15:58 when she tipped an Agosta pass in. It was the 24th point in 16 Olympic games for Agosta, a Vancouver police officer playing in her fourth Olympics.

With Canada holding a two-man advantage in the third period, Johnston scored her second of the game, picking the top corner from a sharp angle. Daoust added her second of the game, tapping in a Poulin rebound off a shot that hit the crossbar.

That goal resulted in Russia replacing starting goaltender Nadezhda Morozova with Nadezhda Alexandrova.

Schuler, the first former national team player to coach the women's Olympic team, did a nice job using all the players on her roster, but will likely need to shorten her bench to get her best players more ice time as the tournament progresses.