Looming before every player is a crucial moment. It’s a moment that has the ability to buoy spirits or send them crashing. And for many, it’s one of the most challenging things they’ll face this tournament.
It’s the first game.
A win can carry a team through to the playoffs, while a loss can set the tone for things to come.
“I think a win is huge,” said Hayley Wickenheiser, Team Canada’s captain. “Every game’s important, but getting a win in the first game is key to getting off to a good start.”
Wickenheiser and her teammates have a lot of pressure to start things off in a big way. As the world’s top team, people expect them to win not only the first game but also the rest of their matchups with ease.
“We recognize the fact people expect us to win,” said Head Coach Melody Davidson. “There’s no pressure put on them from outside more than what they put on themselves.”
But Wickenheiser says the win, while nice, isn’t always the most important goal.
“More important is to play good hockey,” said Wickenheiser. “My goal, and I think that of the team, is to play great hockey every game, and whatever happens, happens.”
Other teams don’t have the luxury of taking that outlook.
Starting the tournament off against Russia and Finland, Sweden knows it has to deliver, ideally with a pair of three-point, regulation-time wins.
“We know that we need to win the first game and we need to win the second game to win the group,” said Erika Holst, Sweden’s captain. “And if we don’t win the group, we can’t be in the final games.”
It’s a situation Tre Kronor’s faced before.
At the 2002 Olympics they squeezed by Russia 3-2 in the first game and later battled back to capture the bronze against their Finnish rivals. And then last year, they did it again, beating Russia by a small margin and then toppling the USA in a semi-final shootout to win silver. But they’re not looking back.
“Today is today,” said forward Maria Rooth. “Past results have nothing to do with tomorrow’s game. We just have to go out there and play our game and hopefully we’ll come out victorious.”
And while most observers believe Canada and the USA are the teams to beat, Davidson won’t be taking anything for granted.
“I don’t consider this tournament a two-horse race,” said Davidson. “I think Canada and the US are the strongest on paper, but if you look at Finland, Sweden and the history of these events, we’ve always had tight games. Anything can happen.”
Sweden kicks it all off against Russia Tuesday night at the MTS Centre at 4 pm local time. Next up is Canada’s opening game against Switzerland at 7:30 pm, while the USA takes on Kazakhstan in Selkirk at the same time.