Just under 1,600 hockey fans came out to the Selkirk Arena to cheer on Team Canada as they easily defeated Team Finland 9-0 in exhibition action March 31.
Canadian Head Coach Melody Davidson gave the nod to alternate netminder Sami-Jo Small to start in front of her friends and family. The Winnipeg product hadn’t played in her home province since 1994, and she didn’t disappoint in her return.
“It was a lot of fun. The coaches didn’t have to play me,” said Small. “Having so many people in the stands that I knew made it all the more special.”
Finland was plagued by penalties and missed scoring opportunities, and Canada looked very convincing. But both teams are looking to pick up their game heading into the Preliminary Round. “We can’t underestimate anybody,” said Davidson. “We also have to be aware of ourselves, because sometimes we can be our own worst enemy,”
The game got off to an aggressive start as the two sides battled for control of the puck. The referees were tested early, with five penalties in the first period.
Finland came out strong and put up a good fight, clogging up the middle and making it difficult for Canada to break through.
But Winnipeg’s Jennifer Botterill opened the scoring with a power play goal at 14:03, set up by Caroline Ouellette and Carla MacLeod. By the end of the first period, Canada had outshot Finland 14-8
Finland looked fired up at the start of the second, keeping control of the puck for the first minute and a half, but couldn’t capitalize on the effort.
Just past the halfway mark, Finnish goalie Noora Raty found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time and could only watch as the puck trickled toward the net. The goal was credited unassisted to Canada’s Vicky Sunohara, making it 2-0 Canada.
Canada picked up its third goal just over two minutes later. Taking a pass from Tessa Bonhomme, Gillian Apps teed it up from just inside the blue line to put Canada up 3-0.
The third Canadian goal took the wind out of Finland’s sails. “They got a pretty easy goal on the second goal, and it depressed our players a bit,” said Finnish Head Coach Hannu Saintula.
Meghan Agosta and Tessa Bonhomme rounded out the middle frame with goals to give Canada a 5-0 lead.
Canada kept up its momentum in the third. Finland pulled Raty and put backup Maija Hassinen in net, hoping it would make a difference. But just 34 seconds in, Hayley Wickenheiser slid one past Hassinen to make it 6-0.
Two and a half minutes later, the Finnish defencemen couldn’t catch up with Danielle Goyette and Hayley Wickenheiser as they skated in on Hassinen shorthanded. Goyette, Team Canada’s oldest player at 41, would pick up Canada’s seventh goal.
Finland held Canada to 16 shots on net in the third, but the host team closed out the game with two more goals from Jayna Hefford for a decisive win.
This exhibition closer for both teams did nothing to diminish the impression that Canada is the odds-on favourite to win gold, recovering the title it lost to the USA in 2005. Canada’s first Preliminary Round game is April 3 versus Switzerland (7:30 pm at the MTS Centre), while Finland faces Russia April 4 (4:00 pm at the MTS Centre).