US, Canada make date for gold-medal showdown with big semifinal wins in women’s hockey

By Greg Beacham, AP
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

US, Canada advance to final game in women’s hockey

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The final game in women’s Olympic hockey is no surprise: The Canadians and the Americans were the best teams going in, and they’ve earned the right to go out together with one game for gold.

A few hours after Monique Lamoureux scored three goals in the Americans’ 9-1 victory over Sweden on Monday, Meghan Agosta set an Olympic record with her ninth goal in Canada’s 5-0 win over Finland in the semifinals. The results ensured the 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 40-2 edge. The gold medal game is Thursday.

“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.

In classification play, Switzerland beat Russia 2-1 in a shootout to finish fifth, while China beat Slovakia 3-1 to take seventh place, keeping the Slovaks winless in their first Olympics.

Before Canada struggled through parts of its toughest game of the tournament, the Americans easily avenged their 2006 semifinal shootout loss to Sweden, the biggest upset in Olympic history and a sore spot for the six returning members of that bronze-medal team.

“It was the same team, same semifinal game, but the similarities end there,” said Ruggiero, the four-time Olympian. “Everyone knows. No one was saying, ‘Remember, remember.’”

The Americans jumped out to another 2-0 lead at Canada Hockey Place, just as they did in Turin. That’s when Ruggiero skated in on Kim Martin and beat the standout Swedish goalie cleanly, scoring on exactly the type of shot Martin repeatedly stopped with style four years ago.

“Obviously, what happened in 2006 was disappointing to everybody with USA Hockey,” U.S. coach Mark Johnson said. “We’ve talked about when you get the opportunity, to be ready. Today was a big hurdle to get across.”

The rematch was a comprehensive thrashing of the Swedes and Martin, who came nowhere close to her 37-save performance in Turin. She again made 37 saves — the exact number she made four years ago — but the ones that got away were more numerous and more glaring.

“To beat them, you need the lucky bounces and excellent goaltending,” Sweden coach Peter Elander said. “Today we didn’t get any lucky bounces, and we let in some soft goals.”

Every goal was hard-earned for Canada, which still wasn’t seriously threatened by Finland.

Cherie Piper and Caroline Ouellette scored for the Canadians, who were backed by a flag-waving crowd that sang “O Canada” in the closing minutes.

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.”

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