CANADA SCORES PLENTY, BUT NOT 20, IN HAMMERING SLOVAKIA 18-0
VANCOUVER – The goals kept going in, but there was no way the Canadian women's hockey team would play the benevolent host and let up on Olympic newcomer Slovakia.
When the lopsided affair mercifully ended on Saturday night, Canada had opened the 2010 Games with a record 18-0 victory, led by veteran Jayna Hefford's three goals and three assists.
Hefford, one of four Canadians to play in all four Olympics to include women's hockey since 1998, said the team did not want to pick up any bad habits by getting careless or fancy against an overmatched opponent.
“It's easy to let up and make a pass when you should shoot because you don't want to score, but it's so important for us to make sure we do the right things,” said Hefford. “We scored nice goals, we got traffic to the net, we backchecked, our special teams were good, although they could have been better, and we didn't give up. That was important.”
But the Canadians were ready for the inevitable questions over whether, with such one-sided games, the women's game belongs at the Olympics. Two countries, Canada and the United States, remain a cut above the rest of the field in talent and a long stretch above neophyte programs like that of Slovakia, although Sweden and Finland have closed the gap somewhat in recent years.
“There were lopsided scores at the (men's) world juniors as well,” said veteran Jennifer Botterill. “It's not only in women's hockey, but that's a theme that keeps coming up.
“Those (Slovak) girls didn't let up at all. That's a credit to them. They should be proud of that. We're lucky in North America that the game is supported. There are lots of opportunities to play. Maybe other countries aren't at that spot yet, but they will get there.”
And who is to say that the Canadian men's team won't blow out humble Norway by nine or 10 goals when they open Olympic competition on Tuesday?
Slovak coach Miroslav Karafiat wasn't complaining, nor should he. In September 2008, his team pasted Bulgaria by an incredible 82-0, although he explained that the newly formed Bulgarian team had only received its skates and equipment two weeks before that game.
“The Canadian team is on a different level than Slovakia,” Karafiat said through a translator. “We have joined the big hockey family to learn.
“This is a way to improve ourselves so we can compete with the top teams. The Canadian players are great skaters, which was the big handicap for us.”
Tournament rules also don't encourage mercy, as goal differential can be a tie-breaker if teams are even at the end of preliminary round play.
The near-capacity crowd of 16,496 at Canada Hockey House (G.M. Place renamed for the Games) saw the host country and two-time defending gold medallist build up a hefty goal differential going into its second preliminary round game Monday against Switzerland at UBC Thunderbird Arena.
Meghan Agosta had three goals and two assists, Carla MacLeod had two goals and two helpers and there was a goal and four assists from Caroline Ouellette.
Gina Kingsbury, with two, Colleen Sostorics, Cherie Piper and Sarah Vaillancourt also scored. Hefford's six points in one game tied an Olympic record set in 2006 by Piper, when she had a goal and five helpers against Italy.
Among first-time Olympians, Haley Irwin scored twice, Marie-Philip Poulin and Tessa Bonhomme each had one, Rebecca Johnston had three assists and Katherine Ward had one.
Ouellette recalled playing for a club team in Montreal that once was beaten 11-0 by the U.S. national team.
“From being on the other side of it, on a team that got beat badly, I'd rather the other team tried to do the right things rather than just move the puck around us like we're pylons,” she said. “It's tough to play in a game like that, but we wanted to keep good work habits and play well.”
Canada tied its own Olympic record – set twice in 2006 – by scoring seven goals in the opening period. They added six in the second and five in the third. They might have had more but for some fine stops by Zuzana Tomcikova, who spent time playing in Canada and who now tends goal at Bemidji State University in Minnesota.
“I felt for the goalie a bit,” said Canadian captain Hayley Wickenheiser. “She had a gritty performance, but this is the Olympic Games and we prepare to be the best we can and we expect other countries to do the same.
“We can't let up when we're here. We have to play hard and execute every shift.”
The mostly Maple Leaf-covered crowd never got tired of the red light going on, jumping up to wave flags and Go Canada Go signs with every goal.
Slovakia's best chance game in the opening seconds when Jana Kapostova came around the net but was stopped from stuffing the puck in by veteran goalie Kim St. Pierre.
At 1:39, Irwin got it going with a goal from the right circle. Bonhomme was listed as the scorer on a point shot deflected in by Agosta at 3:06, Agosta got one on a power play at 4:21 and MacLeod picked a top corner at 8:21.
The Slovaks protested that a goal credited to Agosta, but scored by Ouellette, should have been whistled off as Michaela Matejova played the puck on a delayed penalty call just before it was shot in. Then Kingsbury roofed one from in close at 15:09 and a Sostorics point shot went in off a defender at 16:20.
More followed in the second, as Agosta completed her hat-trick, Poulin got one on a power play, Hefford and Ouellette both scored short-handed during the same minor to Irwin, and Vaillancourt and MacLeod each got one.
Irwin, Piper and Kingsbury had goals and Hefford got two in the third, including the record-setting 17th as she breezed past the defence and scored on a backhander at 11:03.
In another Group A game earlier Saturday, Sweden downed Switzerland 3-0. Group B plays on Sunday, with the United States facing China, and Finland playing Russia.
|Arena||Canada Hockey Place
||City, Country||Vancouver, B.C., CAN|
|Date||Sat. Feb. 13, 2010
||Time||5:00 p.m. PT|
|Goals & Penalties/ Buts et pénalités|
|First Period/Première période|
|Second Period/Deuxième période|
|Third Period/Troisième période|
|Goaltenders/Gardiens de but|
|CAN||Kim St. Pierre|
|Shots on Goal/Tirs au but||1||2||3||Total|