Neal: Women’s hockey superpowers set for gold medal collision

BEIJING — One by one, American female hockey players have been asked about the enormity of playing against Canada. It was hard to get a straight answer from them about a team now standing directly ahead of them for an Olympic gold medal.

A few hours earlier, the Canadian players had done the same. It’s like there’s a code that can’t be broken. They want to come down; they just don’t want to say how badly they want to do it.

“It doesn’t matter who the opponent is,” said American goaltender Alex Cavallini, “we’re fighting for a gold medal.”

“I think we know that story,” Canada forward Brianne Jenner said. “We are going to give ourselves a blank page.”

The United States beat Finland 4-1 in the semifinals on Monday after Canada beat Switzerland 10-3 to set up a gold-medal encounter Wednesday night Minnesota time for the sixth time in seven Olympic Games. Team USA will be looking to win back-to-back gold medals for the first time in Olympic play.

Make no mistake, this is a collision between two sports superpowers. Not women’s sport. All the sports.

Their previous meetings have been quick, exciting and edgy. Add to that their matches at the World Championships and the teams have been battling it out for a long time with a title on the line. reach this level.

“It’s so much fun to play against them,” Switzerland captain and former Minnesota Duluth star Lara Stalder said in a group game. “It shows what is possible for women’s hockey.”

The Canadians crossed the field undefeated, setting an Olympic record for most goals scored in the tournament (54) along the way. Their offense, they believe, could revolutionize the game. Putting on the Maple Leaf jersey is like wearing an “S” cape at this tournament.

Canada has scored 10 or more goals three times in five games. Against Switzerland, the Canadians scored five first-period goals in 3 minutes and 24 seconds.

“The number of goals we’ve scored is no coincidence,” Jenner said.

The United States team was more methodical in their preparation for the goal medal game. Monday’s victory over Finland was the latest example of how they had to deal with a disciplined team to slow them down. The Americans got off to another slow start, but ended up rolling.

With the game scoreless, Finland nearly scored a ticking goal in the final minute of the first half, but Cavallini made some fine saves with her left pad on Michelle Karvinen, who tried to beat her from close range and then pulled away. offered on rebound.

It took a power play early in the second period – on a penalty kick awarded to Finland’s Tanja Niskanen for a phantom trip when Kendall Coyne Schofield appeared to fall onto the ice on her own – for the United States to break through.

A minute later, former Gopher Hannah Brandt of Vadnais Heights fed Cayla Barnes for her first career Olympic goal, and Team USA led 1-0. Hilary Knight fired a shot from the left circle with 67 seconds left in the period for a 2-0 lead.

Hayley Scamurra and Abby Roque scored in third for Team USA. Cavallini’s shot on a shutout was ruined between those goals when Finland scored with 26 seconds left after pulling their goalie off.

While Canada outscored their opponents 54-8 during the tournament, Team USA was solid in goal with a solid defense up front. He also limited his opponents to eight goals, although four were scored by Canada in a group-ending loss to the United States last week. Team USA hopes that skipping a few games on the way to the final will help them clinch gold once again. Canada knows it needs to be more responsible defensively against the Americans, who will be buzzing in its net from the first face-off.

“I don’t think we’ve played our best game yet, so I think we’re glad to see that the last time we played them,” USA coach Joel Johnson said. “I thought we were good enough, but we didn’t generate enough good scoring chances.”

Facing Canada with the gold on the line will demand the best game from the Americans. It’s the game the hockey world has been waiting for, and now it’s here.

“I think it’s one of the best rivalries in sports,” Cavallini said. “I’m really looking forward to playing a great Canadian team.

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