WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – The undercard is over. Now the United States will play Canada for the women’s hockey gold medal in the Olympic matchup everyone anticipated.
“Both teams are right where they want to be,” said U.S. captain Cammi Granato, who had two goals and an assist Tuesday to lead the Americans past Sweden 4-0 and set up a rematch of the Nagano gold medal game and every world championship ever held.
“It’s a great rivalry,” Granato said, “and there won’t be any doubt about it when the puck drops.”
In a sport dominated by North Americans, it’s the only way the tournament could end.
After their 7-3 semifinal victory over Finland earlier in the day, the Canadians spoke of preparing for the United States without even a pretense that Thursday’s opponent could be Sweden. No wonder, considering that the Americans are 18-0 against Sweden and have won 35 in a row since a loss to Canada in the 2001 world championships.
In fact, neither the United States nor Canada has ever lost to anyone except each other – making it a virtual cinch they would sweep through the field into the final.
“It’s been sort of a collision course all year,” Canada’s Therese Brisson said. “We knew this was coming. This was what we prepared for. This is what we’ve been waiting for all year.”
The United States won eight consecutive games against Canada leading up to the Olympics, but neither team cares about that now that an Olympic gold is on the line. U.S. player Angela Ruggiero said she took two years off from Harvard “for one game.”
Asked whether she would have been disappointed if the opponent had been other than Canada, Courtney Kennedy said, “There’s a part of the athlete in you that says, ‘I want to go out there against the hottest team, and play the hardest game.’ “
Katie King and Natalie Darwitz also scored for the U.S. team, and Sarah Tueting stopped 10 shots for her second career Olympic shutout. But coach Ben Smith said he will continue alternating goalies and give the gold medal start to Sara DeCosta, who is also 2-0 so far in Salt Lake City.
“The decision’s already made,” said Smith, who broke the rotation in Nagano and went with Tueting in the semifinal and final. “I rotate my goalies.”
Kim Martin made 28 saves for Sweden, which will play for the bronze medal Thursday against Finland. The Finns have finished third at the world championships six times and also took the bronze in Nagano.
With U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in attendance alongside Salt Lake Organizing Committee head Mitt Romney, the American women held Sweden to 10 shots while killing more than 10 minutes of power plays, including a 5-on-3.
It took the Americans 17:16 to score, but the first one was a beauty.
Granato was tripped by a Swedish defender between the circles, but that didn’t stop her from reaching out with her stick to poke the rebound of Krissy Wendell’s shot past Martin.
With 28 seconds left in the first period, King split a pair of defenders at the blue line and beat Martin on the glove side to make it 2-0. The Americans made it 3-0 midway through the second when Jenny Potter’s shot was deflected by a defenseman past Martin and Granato swept it out of the crease and into the net.
Darwitz scored on a pass from Wendell with seven minutes left to make it 4-0.
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