Analysis

Sarah Fillier's offensive blitz continues to lift Canadian women's hockey team in Beijing

If you turned on Canada's women's hockey games a couple minutes late, you'll have already missed half of Sarah Fillier's Olympic goals. For the second match in a row, the 21-year-old centre scored barely 60 seconds after the puck dropped as Canada rolled over Finland, 11-1.

Both of Canada's games have begun with 1st-minute goals by the 21-year-old forward

Sarah Fillier, right, celebrates with Team Canada teammate Jamie Lee Rattray, left, after scoring against Team Finland in the first period at Wukesong Sports Center on Saturday at the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games. The Canadians routed Finland 11-1. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

If you turned on Canada's women's hockey games a couple minutes late, you'll have already missed half of Sarah Fillier's Olympic goals.

For the second match in a row, the 21-year-old centre scored barely 60 seconds after the puck dropped as Canada rolled over Finland, 11-1.

"I think when you score early it just deflates a team," Fillier said of her knack for kicking things off early. "When we just keep attacking, it's really hard to get one back on us and we can really play with them on their heels."

While many have pointed to Fillier as a star of the future, her performances have proven that she's worthy of the title right now. If opening the scoring wasn't impressive enough, her second goal of the contest came when she corralled the puck in the slot and backhanded it into the net ― while skating backwards and facing the opposite direction.

Analyst Cheryl Pounder, a two-time Olympic champion, calls Fillier a generational talent.

"It's just the number of layers to her game that just have my mouth agape sometimes," Pounder said. "The way she manipulates the defensive structure, the way she recognizes whether she can or cannot beat someone and will create a little bit more space for a linemate. Or in tight around the goal ― she can get those kinds of goals, too. 

"She just has that uncanny sense of where her stick needs to be, while her eyes are still scanning."

WATCH | Canada sends a message with win over Finland:

Canada sends a message with big win over Finland

6 months ago
Duration 5:03
Watch highlights from Canada's 11-1 win over Finland in the preliminary round at the Beijing 2022 Olympics.

In its second game of the tournament, Canada's depth was once again on display, with 16 players registering points. The Canadians showcased fast, fluid movement and creativity to dismantle the Finnish defence.

"When you hit the neutral zone and into the offensive zone, I feel like because they're playing instinctively and they're reading the game, it's not about position," Pounder said. "It's about getting the getting the puck to the right spots, pulling up and creating space."

Versatility has been a hallmark of the team's style, with centres and wingers swapping places mid-play and defenders regularly jumping up into offensive roles.

"The difference is that it's not as structured, and because they've had that versatility, they think it differently," Pounder explained. "So you're seeing them weave in and out of those positions, because they've played them."

That adaptability was evident throughout the lineup. Jamie Lee Rattray, who played the fewest minutes of any healthy Canadian against the Swiss, stepped comfortably into Mélodie Daoust's spot on the second line and netted her first Olympic goal.

Sarah Nurse, who had been playing centre before an injury kept her out of most of the season's games, tallied a hat trick from the wing. And every single defender joined in the scoring, earning at least one point apiece.

WATCH | Nurse, Jenner both notch hat tricks vs. Finland:

Nurse and Jenner both score hat tricks in Canada's rout of Finland

6 months ago
Duration 3:09
Watch Sarah Nurse and Brianne Jenner score hat tricks in Canada's 11-1 preliminary round win over Finland at the Beijing 2022 Olympics.

"A lot of our offence that you saw today came from strong defence principles and playing aggressive as a five-man unit," said Brianne Jenner, who also scored a hat trick. "That's something that we purposely worked at."

"Everyone just knows that they can contribute and knows their role," Pounder added. "They're having a lot of fun right now. I'm sure there will be some adversity as they go, but for all intents and purposes, this is one of the best teams that we've seen so far."

The 10-goal margin marked Finland's worst ever showing against Canada, in over three decades of head-to-head meetings. Though their number one goaltender Anni Keisala began the game on the bench, the blowout nonetheless comes as a surprise.

The Finns upset Canada 4-2 in the semifinal of the 2019 world championship, where they nearly defeated the United States for gold. Finland is a team that, on a good day, knows it can beat the best, making this result a noteworthy outlier.

"They've got two lines in particular that possess a lot of speed," Pounder said. "They can move the puck; they just look a little out of sync right now."

While this was far from the Finns' best effort, their inability to generate sustained offensive possession is a testament to Canada's strength both on and off the puck. Despite putting 29 shots on netminder Ann-Renée Desbiens, Finland never quite seemed to pose a dangerous threat. 

The biggest challenge for the Canadians moving forward may well be ensuring they can manage tight games and defend against a more coordinated attack.

"That can be a tough adjustment," Pounder noted. "And you don't have time to adjust when you play the Americans."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kirsten Whelan has covered women's hockey since 2015, from the youth level through to professional and international competition. She is based in Montreal.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now