Column: U.S. women’s hockey cruises to gold-medal game after 5-0 victory over Finland
None of the last 10 days really mattered and that included Monday, when the United States cruised to a 5-0 victory over Finland in the semifinals of the Olympic women’s hockey tournament.
The games played up to this point have served as something of a prolonged and gratuitous qualification phase for the seemingly inevitable gold-medal contest between the U.S. and Canada.
So long as Canada, the four-time defending champion, defeats the Olympic Athletes from Russia — in other words, Russia — the anticipated rematch of the previous two Olympic finals will take place Thursday at Gangneung Hockey Centre.
Count on it happening. The Canadians already crushed the Russians 5-0 in the opening round of this tournament.
“We worked the last four years to put ourselves in position to win a gold medal,” captain Meghan Duggan said.
These are the sixth Olympics to include women’s hockey, but the sport as a whole remains painfully backward, as the national programs outside of the Americans’ and Canadians’ are in the athletic Stone Age.
Finland was the perfect example of that. The Fins are the world’s third-ranked team but they had as much a chance of upsetting the U.S. as they did of brokering world peace.
The Americans defeated the Fins in their Olympic opener 3-1. This would be worse. Significantly worse.
All-world goaltender Noora Raty couldn’t save the Fins, who were overwhelmed in virtually every aspect of the game. The U.S. went ahead in the first period 2-0 on goals by Gigi Marvin and Dani Cameranesi.
The Americans showed they weren’t here to play around, as a hip check by Duggan sent defender Ronja Savolainen head-first into the boards. Savolainen crumbled to the ice and remained down for several minutes as her teammates crowded around in concern.
Savolainen was escorted to the locker room, but later returned.
Duggan wasn’t penalized for what she did to Savolainen, eliciting a chorus of boos from the half-empty arena.
The Fins never retaliated and the Americans continued to do whatever they wanted. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s one-timer with 6:39 remaining in the second period extended the advantage to 3-0. Hilary Knight redirected a shot by Sidney Morin 34 seconds later to make it 4-0. Cameranesi added a fifth goal in the third period.
Like that, the Americans advanced to the game they waited four years to play.
The Americans’ only gold medal at this tournament was won in 1998, the first year women’s hockey was contested at the Games. The Americans dropped the final game to Canada in 2002, 2010 and again in 2014. The most recent of the defeats was also the most painful, as the U.S. blew a two-goal lead in the third period and choked in overtime to lose 3-2.
Knight was part of the 2010 and 2014 teams.
“The finals and the heartbreak are part of it,” she said. “It’s like a bad relationship.”
Curiously, the U.S. has been as dominant at the world championships as the Canadians have been at the Olympics. The U.S. has won eight of the 10 world championships since 2005, including the last four.
The U.S. and Canada played each other in the last game of the group stage of this Olympic tournament. Canada won 2-1, but it didn’t matter. Only the game Thursday counts.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez
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