Give her liberty or give her a shutout.
On a day when Nicole Hensley’s goalie mask was the talk of the Twitterverse, the Lakewood, Colo., native let her play do the talking with a 5-0 shutout against the Olympic Athletes of Russia.
A flurry of second-period goals, including a pair by Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored 6 seconds apart, the fastest two goals scored by an individual player – male or female – in Olympic history, provided more than enough offensive support for Hensley.
Nicole Hensley earned the win in her Olympic debut
“We knew what we needed to do and we know the answers are in our room so we kept looking to our leaders and our energy players. We knew that if we stuck to the game plan that it would come,” said the 23-year-old netminder.
With the victory, their second in as many games, the Americans punched their ticket to the semifinals of the Olympic tournament. They still have one more game in the preliminary round, a highly-anticipated clash with Canada on Thursday.
Tonight marked the second time these two countries have met on Olympic ice, and the first since 2010 when the U.S. won a round-robin game, 13-0. The result still stands as the most goals the U.S. women have scored in an Olympic game.
Still, outside of the second-period outburst, this Russian team, gave the Americans all they could handle.
“We knew they weren’t going to make it easy and we needed to come out hard,” Hensley said. “We know we have to show up for every game and we don’t want to underestimate any opponent.”
Earlier in the day it was reported that the IOC had requested that Hensley and fellow goaltender Alex Rigsby cover the Statue of Liberty drawing on their masks in keeping with regulations prohibiting the display of political symbols on a uniform. Hours later the IOC issued a statement saying it would allow the players to keep their masks intact.
Regardless, Hensley remained focused on her first Olympic start, and based on her 13-save performance the mask flap wasn’t even an issue.
“We’re all good. I’m really not sure what happened. I’m just focused on playing the games,” she said. “Our equipment guys take care of the equipment and we take care of what’s happening on the ice.”
And she did that, turning the few shots that managed to sneak through the defensive wall her teammates erected in front of her.
“My teammates did an awesome job of blocking shots and controlling the pace of the game. That makes my job easy,” she said. “I had some bad rebounds early but I was able to clear those and we were able to eventually find the back of the net.”
For head coach Robb Stauber, it’s a wealth of riches having three topnotch goaltenders to choose from. The biggest challenge, he said, is deciding which one gets the starting nod on any given night.
“We have three goalies that can play, and we expect them all to play,” said Stauber, who served as the goalie coach with the 2014 Olympic squad.
“We told them that they have to be able to stop the puck because there’s nowhere to hide. We’re going to need each of them. We don’t have to look over our shoulder and wonder if our goalies are capable. We believe in them and that’s why we’re here.”
Maddie Rooney proved that in the tournament opener, coming up with a 23-save performance in a 3-1 victory against Finland.
With Hensley’s start tonight, the smart money would be on Rigsby to start against Canada. For his part, Stauber wasn’t ready to show his hand. What he did say was that he’d like another effort like the one his team put forth tonight.
“We have not given much energy to Canada because it is definitely one-game-at-a-time mentality,” Stauber said. “Now we know who play in our next game, we know that opponent very well so we’re just going to play extremely hard and we’re going to try to duplicate some of the things that we did well tonight.”
If that happens, the U.S. will be in good shape.
|Sun., Feb 11||Finland||Preliminary||W, 3-1||Kwandong Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Tues., Feb 13||Olympic Athletes From Russia||Preliminary||W, 5-0||Kwandong Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Thurs., Feb. 15||Canada||Preliminary||L, 1-2||Kwandong Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Mon., Feb. 19||Finland||Semifinals||W, 5-0||Gangneung Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Thurs., Feb. 22||TBD||Gold-Medal Game||1:10 p.m./11:10 p.m. (Feb. 21)||Gangneung Hockey Centre||NBCSN