SOCHI, Russia — Considering the outcome of their last Olympic women’s hockey tournament appearance, the United States was cautiously optimistic following a dominating performance to kick off the 2014 Winter Games.
In the opener of the eight-team tournament, the Americans controlled the play from opening puck drop and skated to a 3-1 victory over Finland on Saturday at Shayba Arena in.
After coming up short in 2010, the U.S. has its sights set on nothing less than gold in ’14. Saturday’s performance got that journey off on the right foot and also gave the U.S. a fair assessment of where its game stands as they dispatched a Finnish team that harbors medal aspirations of its own.
“Playing a good competitor like Finland, we had to be ready to go,” said goaltender Jessie Vetter, who made 14 saves to earn the victory. “It was a lot of the girls’ first games in the Olympics. It’s always a new experience playing on this ice sheet … but we played well.”
Hilary Knight had a goal and an assist while Kelli Stack and Alex Carpenter also scored as the U.S. peppered arguably the top women’s goaltender in the world, Noora Raty, with 43 shots. Finland mustered 15 shots on Vetter and only solved her once, late in the game on Susanna Tapani’s power-play goal.
Knight and the U.S. wasted little time as the forward scored off a breakaway on the first shot of the game with 53 seconds elapsed. Team USA dictated the pace the rest of the way and only a stellar effort from Raty kept things from getting out of hand.
“As we always say, we’re getting better,” Vetter said. “Tomorrow we’ll be a better team and the next day we’ll be a better team. That’s been our mindset all year. We’ll be happy with how we played (Saturday) and watch some film and improve from there.”
The next opportunity to improve is Monday when the U.S. will face Switzerland as Group A preliminary play continues.
“We’ll make a few adjustments … to ensure we’re playing our game better than we did (Saturday),” coach Katey Stone said. “(We’ll) pay attention to some of the tendencies of our opponent but the focus is on us at this point.”
The U.S. exacted some revenge on Raty and Finland for a 3-1 loss in the Four Nations tournament in November during which the netminder stopped 58 of 59 shots. That is a prime example that Stone uses to keep her team from getting over-confident and looking past other countries at a showdown with Canada, the co-favorite in Sochi.
“I know for sure that there are 21 players and four coaches in the USA hockey lockerroom that don’t believe it’s a two-team tournament,” Stone said “We played Finland in November and they beat us and we played them here (Friday) in a very close game. We believe very strongly that this is a world event that anyone can win.”