CANADIAN WOMEN'S HOCKEY TEAM TO BATTLE U.S. FOR OLYMPIC GOLD AGAIN
VANCOUVER – A spontaneous, but abbreviated ‘O Canada’ broke out just minutes before the buzzer sounded on Canada's 5-0 semifinal win over Finland in Olympic women's hockey Monday.
“We're hoping to hear the full version next time,” Canadian defender Becky Kellar said.
The next time is Thursday's gold-medal game against the U.S., who defeated Sweden 9-1 earlier in the day.
The matchup was expected before the tournament began, but was no less anticipated because of the storied rivalry between the two countries in women's hockey.
Canada has won the last two Olympic gold medals, beating the U.S. in Salt Lake City in 2002 and then Sweden four years ago in Turin, Italy, where the Swedes upset the Americans in the semifinal. But the resurgent U.S. has won the last two world championships and beaten Canada in the final both times.
“We've been working towards this all year and it's here now,” Canadian captain Hayley Wickenheiser said. “We're where we need to be and it's going to be a great matchup.
“We're ready for anything that comes our way. We've prepared very hard, we're fit, we can play a high-tempo game and we just need to execute.”
The U.S. beat Canada for the first Olympic gold medal awarded in women's hockey in 1998. The two countries have met in the final of every world championship with Canada carrying a 9-3 record in finals versus the Americans.
The two sides have been on similar scoring tears at these Games. Canada has outscored its opposition 46-2, while the U.S. has carried a 40-2 margin.
Finland has never beaten Canada in women's hockey, although it eked out a 6-6 tie back back on Jan. 20, 1999. The Finns have beaten the U.S. twice in the last two years.
They gave Canada's offence its sternest test yet of the tournament Monday, although they mustered little pressure at the other end of the ice.
Canada outshot the Finns 50-11 and had the puck on their sticks for the majority of the game. Finland goaltender Noora Raty, who plays for the University of Minnesota, kept the score from becoming lopsided with 45 saves.
“If Canada plays like this, it's definitely going to be very hard to beat them, especially when they're playing in front of their home crowd, but I believe it's going to be an amazing game,” Finland captain Emma Laaksonen said.
Finland will meet Sweden earlier Thursday for the bronze medal.
The defending champions got a pair of goals from Haley Irwin of Thunder Bay, Ont., while Toronto's Cherie Piper, Meghan Agosta of Ruthven, Ont., and Montreal's Caroline Ouellette added singles at Canada Hockey Place. Canada's fifth goal, scored by Ouellette, came short-handed. Jayna Hefford of Kingston, Ont., had two assists.
With her ninth goal of the tournament, Agosta broke Danielle Goyette's record for goals in a single Olympics, set in 1998.
“I'm definitely very happy, but it's not about breaking records,” Agosta said. “Our goal this whole year has been to make it to that final game.”
Edmonton goaltender Shannon Szabados stopped the 11 shots for the shutout in her second start of the tournament. The burning question for the next two days will be who head coach Melody Davidson will start the U.S. – the young upstart Szabados or the veteran Kim St. Pierre.
Szabados has given up one goal on 23 shots she's faced in two games. St. Pierre stopped all 13 she saw over five periods of play. Charline Labonte, the winning goaltender in the 2006 Olympic final, has played just one period here.
“It's going to be (their performance) before the tournament, it's going to be how they've carried themselves every day and how they reacted to whether they got the start or not and how they performed in the 60 minutes whether it was one shot or five,” Davidson said. “Luckily I still have a couple more days before I make that decision.”
It was the third straight Olympic semifinal meeting between Canada and Finland. Finland sacrifices almost all its offence for defence when it faces Canada.
The Finns attempt to impede Canada's speed with a hard forecheck and high trap and then try to score on their rare opportunities. But they rarely penetrated Canada's zone Monday and didn't get a shot on goal until 16:25 of the first period.
Their pressure on the defensive side of the puck kept the score respectable and made Canada work to get up ice. Davidson could be heard yelling “come back” on a couple of occasions for more support on her team's breakouts.
“They've got the potential to beat us,” Kellar said. “It's happened to the U.S. a couple of times and we've had close games with them this year, so you get a little bit of that pre-game tension.”
The Canadians patiently chipped the puck up ice and off the boards until they made it into the offensive zone, where they cycled the puck along the walls and stretched out Finland's defence.
It wasn't an airtight game by Canada. They turned the puck over a few times and the Americans will give them less time to recover from those mistakes. The Canadians also didn't score on six power-play chances.
“There's still some things we need to tighten up on and be better at,” Wickenheiser said. “They play a little bit different style than against the Americans, so we're going to have to adjust and be ready for more pressure in our own zone. When we get our chances, really bear down.”
The Canadians have have spent little time defending their own end in this tournament, but will be required to do so versus the U.S.
“We just have to keep sharp whether it's video or just some drills in practice,” Davidson said. “There's not much we can do about it. We played a lot of games. It shouldn't take long to come back to us.”
Finland has about 5,000 female players to Canada's 85,000. The Canadian women's team spent about seven months together preparing for the Olympics and played 55 games, compared with a few months and 25 games for the Finns.
|Arena||Canada Hockey Place
||City, Country||Vancouver, B.C., CAN|
|Date||Mon. Feb. 22, 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|
|Shots on Goal/Tirs au but||1||2||3||Total|