Canadian women get by Swiss to reach Olympic final vs. U.S. 0
Team Canada players circle staring goalie Shannon Szabados just before the start of their women's semifinals play-off ice hockey game at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics against Team Switzerland at the Shayba Arena in Sochi, Russia, on Monday Feb. 17, 2014. Al Charest/Calgary Sun/QMI Agency OLY2014
That Canada and the U.S. would collide once again for the gold medal in women’s hockey at the Olympics was about as good a bet as rumours of a fix in ice dancing.
There are just certain truths at the Olympics.
What wasn’t expected was the rather stout resistance put up by the plucky bunch from Switzerland in Canada’s 3-1 semifinal win, especially 15-year-old Alina Muller, who got in the faces of a couple of Canadians.
Down 3-0 after the first, Switzerland scored the lone goal of the second period, a goal by Jessica Lutz. And when that last happened to Canada in the Olympics against a team other than the U.S. isn’t easily recalled.
The performance of the Swiss, thanks in large part to the work of goaltender Florence Schelling, who made 45 saves, should help quell some of the complaining about the gap between Canada and the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Schelling called it an important game for Swiss hockey, and beyond.
“I believe this was a very important game for women’s hockey in general,” she said. “Losing 3-1 is amazing. It’s a great outcome for us, but also we are a little disappointed.”
Swiss Coach Rene Kammerer kind of summed things up: “I’m very proud to be disappointed about our losing.”
After the second, the Swiss had the better chances to start the third and came close a couple of times to making it a one-goal hockey game.
In the end, the three-goal cushion Canada built for itself on a pair of first-period goals by Natalie Spooner and one by Melanie Daoust was enough to give them the breathing room to survive the Swiss surge.
Now Canada will have a couple of days to prepare for the Americans, whom they will meet in an Olympic final for the fourth time in the five Olympic Games that have included women’s hockey.
Canada is chasing its fourth-straight Olympic gold.
The U.S. earned its berth in the final with a 6-1 win over Sweden, after which we heard what might be the closest thing to trash talking when it comes to this intense rivalry.
U.S. forward Kelli Stack said the key to the gold medal game would be getting on the “shaky” Canadian defence.
“Their ‘D’ is pretty shaky back there when you give them a lot of pressure. If we end up playing Canada on Thursday we’re going to try the U.S. forecheck as best we can and make them turn pucks over below the goal line,” she said.
Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser shrugged off the comments while Canadian coach Kevin Dineen took the high road.
“Oh, boy. You know what? You’re trying to get me to bite and I’m not big on that,” said Dineen. “The results will speak for themselves.”
Canada did a pretty good job of avoiding being shaky in its 3-2 preliminary round victory over the Americans.
In that game, the Americans thought they did a poor job of taking the game to the Canadians.
“We got back on our heels a little bit, I think,” said American defenceman Anne Schleper. “Obviously, I think that was the cause for the momentum shift in the game. We just need to be on our toes. That’s our game. Fast, push the pace and we’re really going to work hard to do that.”
American scoring star Hilary Knight, who was outshooting the Swedes 9-6 on her own at one point Monday, liked what she saw from her team in the semifinal win.
“It was a step in the right direction. We are a very resilient team and you didn’t see our best game when we played Canada. We’ve been better all year, but that’s nothing to rest on. We’re a fast, young, resilient, strong team. We’ve got a lot of skill, a lot of character and we’re excited for the opportunity,” she said.
The word “hate” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to the Canada-U.S. rivalry — there were a couple of brawls in the exhibition games in the runup to the Games — but that’s a bit strong.
“I think intense is probably a better word than hate because we all do respect one another at the end of the day,” said Knight. “They’re at the top of their game and we’re at the top of ours. It’s a great battle of the border there. It’s definitely a hot ticket.”
Said Canadian forward Meghan Agosta: “I think the better team is going to come out on top and it’s going to be whoever is ready and there’s no doubt in my mind that’s going to be us.”
WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT
The Americans will have some inspirational reading to prepare for their showdown with Canada for the Olympic women’s hockey gold on Thursday.
Teams are always looking for some kind of inspiration or psychological edge and the Americans think they have one in a book that is filled with messages, advice and thoughts from all of the country’s former women’s hockey Olympians.
“Everyone wrote a little segment of encouragement or what helped them through it. It has really come in handy,” said American defenceman Anne Schleper. “We sit in our rooms and sift through that thing. It brings a lot of life to us.”
The book is apparently quite thick and includes a picture of each former Olympian. It includes poems, inspirational messages, even advice on the mental side of the game.
U.S. forward Monique Lamoureux keeps hers on her night-stand.
“(It’s) pretty special that they all came together to do that for us,” she said.
Schleper said winning the gold for the players who came before her is a big part of her motivation.
“They’re in my mind a lot and I’m doing it a lot for them. Those that had the opportunity and those that didn’t, who came short,” she said after her team’s 6-1 win over Sweden in a semifinal on Monday.
“I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.”