YORKTON - When it comes to women’s hockey two countries continue to dominate; the United States and Canada.
So when the International Ice Hockey Federation finally held the 2021 World Championships in Calgary in August it was not a particular surprise the two countries met in the gold medal game.
While the tournament overall showed that most participating countries still have a ways to go to compete with the big two, the final was about as exciting as hockey gets.
Alex Carpenter scored the first two goals of the game for the Americans, who led 2-0 through the opening frame.
But Brianne Jenner and Jamie Lee Rattray responded with goals under three minutes apart in the second period to tie it.
The third period proved nothing in terms of goals, and the game to decide gold headed to overtime.
In overtime, Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored the winner and Canada snapped a nine-year gold medal drought.
On the winning team was one Saskatchewan-born player, Emily Clark of Saskatoon.
Clark said the game was one which tested the team dropping behind early, but the team didn’t panic.
“It would have been easy to let doubt creep in,” she said in a recent interview. “But our group was really close-knit and we embraced it (the adversity).”
Clark said the team took the attitude focusing “on how good a story it would be when we win this thing.”
The Canadians had been down to other teams in the tourney, and while they were not as strong as the Americans it was something to draw upon in the final.
“We treated every game the same,” said Clark. “No matter who you play, you do the same thing.”
Playing at home, even without a full crowd, also played a role for the Canadians who rolled with the emotions of the game.
“I think emotions play a big role,” said Clark, adding you can let emotions control things, but you can use them to stay sharp.
And the win was just what the Canadians had focused on headed into the championship.
“Obviously our goal was to be in the final,” said Clark, adding that is not a given as was shown in 2019 when Canada ended up playing for bronze. “You have to take it day-by-day . . . It’s doing what it takes to get there.”
And, the road to the final is getting tougher, said Clark.
“I think every year ... every country is getting better,” she said.
For Clark her start in the sport was playing hockey with the boys. She said having older brothers “I always wanted to be one of the boys,” and she played minor hockey in Saskatoon with the boys until age 13.
The early experience with boys might have set Clark’s course as a self-proclaimed “physical player.”
Now as the lone Saskatchewan player, Clark feels she carries this province’s colours so to speak.
“It’s incredibly special,” she said, adding as a younger player Hayley Wickenheiser of Shaunavon was her idol. In 2016, she had an opportunity to play alongside the now Hall of Famer, and recognized how important the connection to the province is.
“I take a lot of pride in being from Saskatchewan,” said Clark.
And, as the lone Saskatchewan player on the gold medal team Clark recognizes she may now be a role model for young players.
“I’ve definitely seem the impact you have on them (younger players). I want to be the best role model I can be for them,” she said.
The World Championship might be Canada’s but players can’t rest on those laurels long as they compete to be on Canada’s Olympic team headed to Beijing next year.
“For us the World Championship, that’s our Stanley Cup playoffs every year,” said Clark, adding that the Olympics are something beyond that. “It’s a childhood dream being at the Olympics.”
So Clark wants a spot on the Olympic roster, adding to get that spot will mean playing her game.
“It’s just knowing as a player what I bring to the team and trust in that,” she said.
And that is where her roots come into the equation again.
“I bring that Saskatchewan grit ... I can be pretty physical,” she said.