Women’s hockey: Irwin, Agosta lead Canada past Finland 5-0, into big finale against US

By Greg Beacham, AP
Monday, February 22, 2010

Canada beats Finland 5-0, sets up finale with US

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The warmups are finished. It’s time for Canada and the U.S. women’s hockey team to play for gold.

Haley Irwin scored two goals, Meghan Agosta set an Olympic record with her ninth goal, and Canada beat Finland in the semifinals 5-0 Monday night to secure its long-awaited gold-medal meeting with the Americans.

The U.S. team advanced to Thursday’s final a few hours earlier with a 9-1 victory over Sweden, setting up a highly probable ending to a tournament utterly dominated by North America. Canada has outscored its opponents 46-2 in Vancouver, while the Americans have a mere 40-2 edge.

“I think you’re probably going to see the best women’s hockey game that’s ever been played,” said Canada’s Jayna Hefford, who added two assists to her 12 points in four games.

Cherie Piper and Caroline Ouellette also scored for the Canadians, who persevered through their closest game in the tournament while backed by a singing, flag-waving crowd at Canada Hockey Place.

Shannon Szabados made just 11 saves for Canada, but Finnish goalie Noora Raty bedeviled the Canadian offense with 45 stops. She kept the deficit to two goals until late in the second period when Agosta broke Danielle Goyette’s Olympic goal-scoring mark.

“I’m very proud, but it’s not about who gets a record,” said Agosta, who grew up an hour south of Detroit in Ruthven, Ontario. “It’s about that one last game we’ve got to play, and that’s what everybody has been focused on.”

Although the Canadian men’s team is causing worry from Victoria to Halifax with its unimpressive start, the women’s team has done exactly what’s expected of a Canadian club.

Canada is one victory away from winning its third straight gold medal in the sport it has largely controlled during two decades of international competition. Yet the Americans, who won the sport’s first Olympic gold in 1998, have been nearly as impressive in their march to the final.

The results of their meetings last year don’t provide much insight: The Americans won the world championship and the Canada Cup, but Canada won the teams’ six most recent exhibitions, including two one-goal victories around New Year’s Day.

“I think Canada has been a better team here than the USA,” said Raty, the University of Minnesota’s goalie. “But if I have to say who I think will win, I’d say USA, because I play there.”

Canada scored less than 6 minutes in against Finland when Agosta, the tournament scoring leader with 14 points, made a backhand pass to Piper for a shot between Raty’s pads. Irwin added an unassisted goal late in the period, but Raty made a series of impressive saves while the puck rarely left Finland’s end.

There were noticeable rumbles of uneasiness in the same building in which Canada opened with an 18-0 victory over Slovakia on the Olympics’ first full day of competition. This win wasn’t nearly as relaxing for the fans or coach Melody Davidson, who acknowledged earlier that a loss to Finland would have been “a disaster” for Canadian hockey.

“Nothing was given to us,” Davidson said. “We had to play hard through the whole game, and that’s what you want, to play against good competition.”

Although the Canadians played with the same power and speed, Raty was everywhere — blocking shots, scrambling across the crease and diving after loose pucks with an abandon she hadn’t showed so far in the tournament.

After 16 scoreless minutes in the second period, Canada finally breathed a bit easier. During 4-on-4 play, Tessa Bonhomme drove the net and drew two Finns away from Agosta, who flipped the rebound over Raty for the Windsor, Ont.-area native’s tournament-leading ninth goal of a breakout Olympics for Canada’s next big star.

Agosta nearly got another goal early in the third, but her shot improbably hit the butt of Raty’s stick and bounded away. Irwin followed up moments later with a score on a rebound of Rebecca Johnston’s shot.

will not be displayed