GANGNEUNG, South Korea – They’ve said it so many times, and for so long, that it’s probably the words they mutter when they’re talking in their sleep.
The “one game at a time” mantra doesn’t make a very compelling sound bite or colorful quote, but it has been an effective rallying cry for a team with only one thing on its mind. And now that they are one win away from their ultimate goal, the next game is really the only one that matters.
The U.S. punched its ticket to the gold-medal game with a dominating 5-0 victory against Finland. All they need now is for Canada to live up to its end of the bargain to complete the dance card for a gold-medal rematch that is four years in the making.
Dani Cameranesi scored two goals in Team USA's semifinal win
It was a total team effort here tonight with all four lines pitching in with goals, led by Dani Cameranesi who potted a pair. Thanks to a staunch defensive effort in front of her, goaltender Maddie Rooney was rarely tested as she stopped all 14 shots she faced.
“Playing for Team USA is something we have all dreamed of,” said Rooney, who was 7 months old when Cammi Granato, Karyn Bye and crew celebrated winning the first Olympic gold medal in women’s ice hockey 20 years ago.
Once again, the U.S. dominated another opponent with a barrage of offensive chances, peppering Finnish goaltender Noora Raty with 38 shots. Unlike the tournament opener, this time they were able to slip five past arguably the best goalie in the women’s game.
“When you’re playing against her you know that you have to get pucks to the net early and get traffic in front of her,” said Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, who scored her third goal of the tournament.
“To get five against her is not common so we’re pretty happy.”
It was a welcome change for this high-powered offense that has consistently created chances but has not been able to finish. To help instill confidence in their shooters, U.S. coaches paid particular attention over the past several days to putting more drills into their practice plans designed to help their shooters find the back of the net with greater regularity.
“When you’re outshooting teams 2-to-1 and you’re barely winning or not scoring as much as you’d like, what else are you going to do but keep getting pucks to the net,” said head coach Robb Stauber.
“And tonight we beat one heck of a goalie and one heck of a team. I’m really thankful that we played Finland. They're a tough team to beat and we needed to have gold-medal preparation and I like that. I’m very excited with what we saw tonight.”
It didn’t take long for those practices to pay off as Gigi Marvin scored on her first shift of the game, converting a feed from captain Meghan Duggan for an early U.S. lead.
The U.S. made it 2-0 late in the period when Cameranesi intercepted a pass near the blue line and ripped a shot over Raty’s right shoulder.
“I think we played well the last couple of games,” she said. “Maybe a few bounces weren’t going in. It’s just working hard on getting shots on goal and getting ready and getting a few more in the net.”
After going 1-for-8 on the power play during the preliminary round, the U.S. managed to convert a pair with the extra skater, the first coming at the tail end of a 5-on-3 situation as Kelly Pannek found Lamoureux-Davidson for a one-timer. Then, as the second Finnish penalty was winding down, Hilary Knight redirected Sidney Morin’s point shot past Raty for her first goal of these Olympics.
“It’s all about tips, screens and deflections. You’re going to have to get some ugly ones. Knight’s goal was a pretty tip, but you’ve got to get ugly goals in games and you have to get pretty goals, deflections and power-play goals,” Stauber said. “We got all of the above tonight, other than a shortie [short-handed goal], and maybe that’s in our future.”
Cameranesi added her second goal of the game early in the final frame, beating Raty high to the glove side.
“I think we played well the last couple of games and maybe a few bounces weren’t going in,” said Cameranesi, who scored her first Olympic goal, an empty-netter, to close out Finland in the opener. “It’s just working hard on getting shots on goal and getting a few more in the net.”
And now it’s on to the gold-medal rematch against Canada, the team that snatched gold and glory from their grasp four years ago in Sochi. More than half the U.S. roster wears that broken heart on their sleeve and uses the sting of that dramatic overtime loss as motivation on every step of their Olympic journey.
The newcomers, many of whom cut their international teeth competing at the Under-18 World Championship, have waged their own ice wars with their neighbors from the north. Like their more experienced teammates they have earned their way onto this stage and know all too well what’s at stake on Thursday.
“Representing our country on the biggest stage is just something that we all have dreamed about since we were little kids,” Cameranesi said. “We’ve finally put ourselves in the position to win a gold medal, which is what we’ve been working toward.”
One game at a time.
|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||Canada||Gold-Medal Game||W, 3-2 (SO)||Gangneung Hockey Centre||NBCSN