SOCHI, Russia — Considering the outcome of their last Olympic women's hockey tournament appearance, the United States was cautiously optimistic after a dominating performance to kick off the Winter Games.
In the opener of the eight-team tournament, the Americans controlled the play from the start and skated to a 3-1 victory over Finland on Saturday at Shayba Arena.
After coming up short in 2010 with a crushing loss to Canada in the gold-medal game in Vancouver, Canada, the U.S. has its sights set on nothing less than gold. Saturday was a good start and gave the U.S. a fair assessment of where it stands as it dispatched a Finland team that has medal aspirations of its own.
"Playing a good competitor like Finland, we had to be ready to go," said goaltender Jessie Vetter, who made 14 saves. "It was a lot of the girls' first games in the Olympics. It's always a new experience playing on this ice sheet … but we played well."
Hilary Knight had a goal and an assist, and Kelli Stack and Alex Carpenter also scored as the U.S. peppered arguably the top women's goaltender in the world, Noora Raty, with 43 shots. Finland mustered 15 shots on Vetter and scored only once, late in the game on Susanna Tapani's power-play goal.
Megan Bozek added an assist for the U.S.
Knight wasted little time as the forward scored off a breakaway on the first shot of the game with 53 seconds elapsed. Team USA dictated the pace the rest of the way and only a stellar effort from Raty kept things from getting out of hand.
"As we always say, we're getting better," Vetter said. "Tomorrow we'll be a better team and the next day we'll be a better team. That's been our mind-set all year. We'll be happy with how we played [Saturday] and watch some film and improve from there."
The next opportunity to improve is Monday when the U.S. plays Switzerland as Group A preliminary play continues.
"We'll make a few adjustments … to ensure we're playing our game better than we did [Saturday]," said Coach Katey Stone. "[We'll] pay attention to some of the tendencies of our opponent, but the focus is on us at this point."
The U.S. exacted some revenge on Raty and Finland for a 3-1 loss in the Four Nations tournament in November during which Raty stopped 58 of 59 shots. That is a motivation that Stone uses to keep her team from getting overconfident and looking past other countries at a showdown with Canada.
"I know for sure that there are 21 players and four coaches in the USA hockey locker room that don't believe it's a two-team tournament," Stone said. "We played Finland in November and they beat us and we played them here [Saturday] in a very close game. We believe very strongly that this is a world event that anyone can win."