SOCHI, Russia — The work began before the U.S. women's hockey team reached the medal round, before it arrived in Sochi, before the roster was even selected.
Four years ago, the Americans left the Olympics with a silver medal. And Julie Chu was determined to be back.
"When that buzzer goes off and it erupted in the arena and we fell short of our goal of being the best in the world, that hurts," the four-time Olympian said after the United States beat Sweden 6-1 on Monday to reach the gold medal game in Sochi. "The last four years, that's been our goal."
Megan Bozek and Brianna Decker each had a goal and two assists, and the Americans outshot Sweden 70-9 to clinch no worse than a silver medal. The U.S. has medaled in every Winter Games since women's hockey was added in 1998, and just once — with a loss to Sweden in the 2006 semifinals — failed to reach the Olympic championship game.
Canada, a three-time defending champion that has played in every Olympic final, would have a chance for a fourth gold in a row with a victory over Switzerland later Monday. Not since the inaugural tournament in Nagano have the Americans beaten Canada, losing in the championship game in 2002 and `10 and again in the preliminary round of the Sochi Games on Wednesday.
There are 11 players on the U.S. roster who played in the final in Vancouver, but Chu is the only one who was also on the team in Salt Lake City or Turin. She has two silver medals and a bronze.
"We're going for a different color this time," she said.
And coach Katey Stone would like to see her get it.
"It's about time isn't it? It's time," said Stone, who was also Chu's coach at Harvard. "Julie's been everything to the program, she's been a youngster, she's been a veteran … she's been a mother to the younger kids. Kids like that don't come around all the time. She's a special one. I certainly hope she gets what she wants."
In goal, Jesse Vetter needed just eight saves for the victory.
The U.S. scored five times in 47 shots on starting goalie Valentina Wallner before she was replaced in the second period by Kim Martin Hasson. The backup was the winning goaltender when Sweden upset the Americans in Turin, and she stopped 22 of 23 shots.
"We took Valentina out because she had a busy day at work," said assistant coach Leif Boork, whose team will face the Switzerland-Canada loser for third place. "We wanted to make a decision for the next game, the bronze medal game."
Anna Borgqvist scored on a deflected shot past Vetter with just under seven minutes remaining to spoil the shutout.
Alex Carpenter and Kacey Bellamy scored in a span of 66 seconds in the first period, and Amanda Kessel gave the Americans a 3-0 lead before Sweden got off its first shot. The U.S. outshot Sweden 29-1 in the first period.
"That was not the start we wanted to have," Boork said. "We knew before that it is one of the world's best teams and they showed that today. We tried to play for the whole game, even if we were under hard pressure from the beginning. But it's too big of a challenge for us at the moment."