SOCHI, Russia – History may have a way of repeating itself, but not here, not now, and definitely not to this team.
Eight years after suffering the most shocking defeat in the short history of women’s Olympic hockey, the U.S. Women’s Team was not ready to see the past repeat itself as they pounded by Sweden, 6-1, to punch their ticket to Thursday’s gold-medal game.
Joining the U.S. in the big-ice dance at the Bolshoy Ice Dome will be Canada, who held off a determined Swiss team, 3-1, to advance to their fifth straight gold-medal game.
After dropping their final game of the preliminary round to Canada, 3-2, the U.S. spent the next several days watching hours of video to learn what they did wrong and then hit the practice ice to correct those mistakes. According to head coach Katey Stone, one area where the team needed to improve was on the forecheck.
“I’m happy with how our team played today. I thought we were the kind of team we’re used to seeing, aggressive going forward and not backing up, moving the puck really well,” Stone said. “We’re building here and we hope that the best is yet to come.”
Those changes put into place in practice worked well tonight, as the U.S. used its speed to throw a blanket over the Swedish defenders, pressuring the puck to create turnovers that led to great scoring chances. The U.S. outshot Sweden 70-9, their highest shot total since peppering China for 71 shots in a 12-1 rout in 2002.
“That’s something that we really focused on the last few days to really get our forecheck going and really try to hem their team in the zone,” said forward Kelli Stack, who set up the first U.S. goal. “We knew that our speed would be no match for them and I think our forecheck really set the tone for the game today.”
If not for the stellar play of Swedish goaltenders Valentina Wallner, who was pulled after surrendering her fifth goal on 47 shots, and Kim Martin Hasson, who as the hero of the Swedes semifinal shootout victory in Torino, Italy, the final score could have been much worse.
“We came in knowing that we wanted to get a lot of shots on net and we did that,” said U.S. goaltender Jessie Vetter, who had to stay focused through long stretches of inactivity.
“The first period we put a lot of rubber on her and she did a great job and kept the puck out of the net. I think overall we played a great game and it’s something that we can be happy about moving forward to Thursday.”
After Carpenter made it 1-0, the U.S. struck again a little more than a minute later as Kacey Bellamy’s low drive slipped through a screen and inside the right post.
Sweden didn’t register its first shot on goal until the 8-minute mark when the U.S. was shorthanded after Michelle Picard was whistled for a hooking penalty.
Amanda Kessel made it 3-0 as Wallner stopped Gigi Marvin’s point blast and Brianna Decker’s rebound attempt but had no chance as Kessel scored her third goal of the tournament.
The U.S. padded its lead on second-period goals from Monique Lamoureux and Megan Bozek, and Decker closed out the scoring in the late in the third period.
The Swedes finally got on the board when Anna Borgqvist redirected an Erica Uden Johansson’s point shot that trickled past a surprised Vetter.
“In those types of games you’re just trying to keep yourself in it. They were able to get a shot through that was going wide and they made a nice tip, but that’s the way hockey goes,” Vetter said. “It doesn’t matter to me. I’ll take a win over a shutout any day.”
While tonight’s game was relatively easy, the U.S. women have been on the losing end of upsets before. Those hard lessons motivate them not to look past any opponent and set their sights on the Canadians.
“Those games are great reminders for us as players that every game matters, every game is a game in itself rather than thinking ‘who do we play in the next game?’ If we look too far ahead we’re going to miss the moment,” said Julie Chu, the only member of the U.S. team that was around in Torino.
“Throughout the tournament we’ve talked about staying focused in the moment. We haven’t been thinking about the gold-medal game. That’s a great thing for our team, and tonight we’ll know who we have to think about next.”
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Tag(s): 2014 - Sochi, Russia