(LEAMINGTON, ON) – The Canadian Women’s National Hockey Team was in Leamington the past week, prepping for the upcoming IIHF Women’s World Championship in Plymouth, MI. In an effort to sharpen their skills for the tournament and their coming stare-down with Team USA, the Canucks went head-to-head with the Provincial Junior Hockey League’s Lakeshore Canadiens for a pair of exhibition games.
In past years, Team Canada generally prepared against Midget AAA clubs, kids a year away from Major Junior or Junior A. But, this year, the four-time defending Olympic champions chose a slightly older team with much more size than your usual midget club.
On Sunday afternoon, after a couple days of practice, the national team was joined by the Canadiens at the Leamington Kinsmen Arena. Throughout the week, young locals were thrilled by the presence of so many Canadian hockey idols. Ruthven native Meghan Agosta was the natural hit with the fans, including many a young lady carrying signs bearing her name.
Lakeshore, fresh out of the playoffs after a four-game sweep to the Essex 73’s, put up a great showing in the first game. The Habs led 1-0 after the first and 2-1 going into the third.
In the final act, Lakeshore added an insurance marker midway through, before popping a pair of empty-net goals to seal the deal.
Mitch Topliffe was solid in net for the Canadiens, backstopping his team to the win. Genevieve Lacasse and Emerance Maschmeyer split the loss for the national team. Afterward, the two teams engaged in a short three-on-three overtime period.
Team Canada dominated the extra frame, popping two on Topliffe.
Then the two clubs partook in a three-round shootout that had the large Leamington crowd on its feet.
Lakeshore took the shootout by a 2-0 score, but the highlight may have been the exchange between Topliffe and Team Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin.
Poulin over-skated the puck in the midst of making her move on the penalty shot, dropping it at the hash marks. Topliffe, not interested in missing a chance against such an esteemed opponent, passed the puck back out to her and demanded a re-shoot.
Poulin lined up at centre once again, much to the delight of those in attendance. Topliffe stopped the second attempt, despite a smooth deke from Poulin, but the scene didn’t disappoint.
Two nights later, the two teams returned to the ice, but this time Canada meant business and brought out their trump card in the form of goalie Shannon Szabados.
Szabados has been the focus of much attention in recent years. She was the star goalie of the 2014 Olympic final and first ever female goalie to pick up a win, and then later a shutout, in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Canada brought a fresh intensity to the game, augmented by a goalie who, only months ago, was knocking down shots at the pro level, and sprung to an early 2-0 lead. The women were aggressive and dominant, leading to a 4-1 win.
Colin Tetreault backstopped for Lakeshore.
After 20 minutes of situational play, both teams alternating between power play and short-handed situations, the two clubs engaged in another thrilling shootout for the capacity crowd.
Szabados was perfect, taking down the Habs shooters one-two-three, as her team skated to a 2-0 shootout win. Agosta, who fittingly took the final shot of the shootout, reflected on the experience on twitter the day after the game:
I will never 4get where I came from & I am so proud 2 call this my home. 1 of the best weeks in my career playing 4 Canada. @HockeyCanada
— Meghan Agosta (@MeghanAgosta) March 29, 2017
Team Canada opens the World Championships tonight against the Americans in a probable rehearsal for the tournament final. Game time is 7:35pm at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.