Canada's women's hockey team firing on all cylinders heading into semifinal
4 different players have 4 points in 3 tournament games played
By Mike Brophy, CBC Sports
Canada's women's hockey team should breeze into its sixth consecutive Olympic gold medal game now that it's been decided it will face the Olympic Athletes from Russia in the semifinal on Monday at 7:10 a.m. ET (watch live in the video player above and in the CBC Olympics app).
The two teams met in the opening game of the preliminary round with Canada winning easily 5-0. It was a one-sided affair in which Team Canada out-shot the Russians 48-18. Canada owned the ice in the first 40 minutes and then took its foot off the gas in the third period, coasting to victory.
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"I was really happy with our first period," Canadian coach Laura Schuler following the win and after her team out-shot OAR 15-5 in the first 20 minutes. "I thought we came out strong and had a lot of really good looks. I thought we had nine real good scoring chances."
Schuler added she was not quite as thrilled with Canada's play in the third period, though it's hard to find too much fault in a 5-0 victory.
"Our focus is really about our play right now and doing the things that we need to do to continue to put pressure on the opponent," Schuler said. "I think the other night (against Russia) we did a pretty good job in the first and second periods, but we're always building; always looking to be better."
OAR takes some positives
OAR held Canada off the score sheet in that first period, but Canada kicked it into gear with three goals in the second to essentially put the game away.
Following the tournament opener, OAR players were encouraged by the fact they played Canada to a scoreless opening period. They will need a similar effort for 60 minutes if they hope to pull off an upset in the semifinal.
"I think we can do more than match Canada for one period," Olga Sosina said. I think if we could score on the chances we created, maybe things would have been different. After all, scoring a goal gives everyone a lift and that can change a game. If we'd scored on our chances the game might have turned out differently."
Scoring goals has not come easy for OAR at these Games. Following the shutout by Canada, OAR was beaten 5-0 by the United States and 5-1 by Finland. However, the Russians came to life in the quarter-finals, shocking Switzerland 6-2 to advance to the semifinal. Previously, Switzerland had been undefeated with a 3-0 record.
Russian team captain Anna Shokhina said the players were depressed following the loss to Finland in the final game of the preliminary round.
"Everyone was so serious," Shokhina said. "So we just tried to turn up the music in the locker room, get people dancing, so nobody would worry about this game."
It worked, but it will take more than doing the jitterbug to beat Canada.
Canada was 3-0 in the preliminary round with victories of 5-1 against OAR, 4-1 against Finland and 2-1 against the world No. 1-ranked USA. Canada has 11 goals and has surrendered only two while using all three of its goaltenders. Ann-Renée Desbiens got the shutout against OAR while Shannon Szabados beat Finland and Geneviève Lacasse won against the United States.
The Russian players feel as though they are born again following the huge win against Switzerland.
"The win was very important for us," Shokhina said. We were working towards this game for a long time and despite the games of the preliminary round, we were very angry. We proved to everybody that we can play and that we can score. Others should be afraid of us."
Shokhina paced the Russians with two goals against Switzerland with singles going to Liana Ganeyeva, Sosina, Yalena Dergachyova and Viktoria Kolishova. Lara Stalder and Alina Muller responded with goals for Switzerland while Christine Meier had two assists.
Canada hitting on all cylinders
Shokhina is tied for fourth in tournament scoring with three goals and five points in four games. Canada has four players with four points in three games; Melodie Daoust (3-1-4), Marie-Philip Poulin (1-3-4), Rebecca Johnston (2-2-4) and Meghan Agosta (2-2-4).
The Canadian players came together as a group in Calgary in August and have been steadily building great team spirit. There were some bumps along the road, including a humbling 5-1 loss to the United States in the gold-medal game of the 4 Nations Cup in Tampa Bay, Fla., but Canada is now firing on all cylinders.
The 2-1 victory in the preliminary round was Canada's sixth consecutive win over the Americans. Canada is riding a 23-game winning streak in Olympic competition.
"We have something special here," Agosta said. "We have lots of depth on this team and great players with speed, talent and skill. It's going to take everybody whether it's their first Olympics or their fourth. We started this mission back in August and we need to keep it going."