Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Team Canada Shuts out Finland, To Play the U.S.A. For Gold on Thursday

After the U.S.A. crushed Sweden, Canada used the 2nd semifinal to get a shutout against Finland to play for Gold against arch rival U.S.A. for the Gold Medal on Thursday night.

From Lucas Aykroyd of the International Ice Hockey Federation Website: www.iihf.com

The Canadian Women overcame a sparkling performance by Finnish Goaile Noora Raty, by winning 5-0 in Monday's 2nd Semifinal at Canada Hockey Place. The result sets up a classic U.S.A. VS. Canada Gold Medal Game on Thursday night.

Thanks to Ratys heroics, the score was closer then expected for most of the night, despite Canada's 50-11 edge in SOG. "I think it was like one of the best performances I've ever had", said Raty.

2010 marks the third time the North American Superpowers will battle for gold since Women's Hockey was introduced as an Olympic Sport back in 1998. The Americans beat Canada 3-1 that year in Nagano, while the Canadians claimed the title on Salt Lake City on 2002 with a 3-2 victory.

"It's an Olympic Final Game, and that's when we've been working toward all year," said Canada's Jennifer Botterill. "Were excited, we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we're going to enjoy it."

VS. Finland, Haley Irwin stepped up with two goals for Canada, and tournament scoring leader Meghan Agosta with 14 points (9G 5A) chipped in a goal and assist. Agosta sets a new record for most goals in One Olympic Tournament when she plotted her 9th of 2010 in the 2nd period. That surpassed retired Canadian great Danielle Goyette's mark of 8 back in 1998.

Canada is the defending Olympic Champion from Turin 2006, where it defeated Sweden 4-1 in the final. In Monday's early Semifinal, the Americans got revenge on Swedes, who knocked them out of title contention in Turin, spanking Sweden 9-1.

"In some ways, it was a little disappointing we didn't get to face the Americans in the 2006 Olympics," said Canadian veteran Jayna Hefford, who scored the gold medal winning goal in 2002. "Of course, you'll take a gold medal anyday over facing a particular team, but you know what? Canada-U.S.A. is something people love to watch and we love to play in. It's going to be a great battle on Thursday night.

Canada heads into the final with a whopping goal differential of 46-2 in 4 games so far. However, it failed to capitalize on the Power Play against Finland, even though the blue and white women took six minor penalty in the game.

"The Finns played a tough, in your face game and they were good with their sticks in the lanes," said Canadian captain Hayley Wickenheiser. "They made it hard for us to generate momentum, and their goalie was excellent. They gave us probably the best game they could with the skills they have."

"We just battled and we didn't quit," said Raty. Facing Sweden in Thursday's Bronze Medal game, will seek it's first Olympic Women's Hockey Medal since winning Bronze in 1998. The Diminutive but tenacious Finns did their best to clog up the middle and clear loose pucks out of their end, but simply couldn't generate enough offensively to support Raty's great play. They'd acknowledged before this game that ousting Canada would be a "humongous task", and it proved to be too much for them.

Finland starved off Canada's untill the 5:22 mark, when Agosta swirled around the Finnish net and centered a sweet backhand feed to Cherile Piper, who banged it past Raty. At 14:36, Just after a Finnish Penalty had expired, Haley Irwin picked up a loose puck in Raty's goal crease and shoveled it past the netminder's right skate for a 2-0 lead. The Canadians outshot Finland 15-2 in the 1st period.

The host team continued to press in the middle frame, and the Finnish netminder had to keep her best mini-Mikka Kiprusoff impression. Even though Raty Stonned Sarah Vaillancourt on a rebound at the end of an early power play and slid across to make a great glove save on Gina Kingsbury, she couldn't stop Agosta at 16:21 when the Ruthven, Ontario Native scooped in a rebound with the teams playing 4-on-4 when the buzzer sounded, the shots were 32-5 in favor of Canada.

Raty stopped Agosta on a partial breakaway early in the third period. But at 4:23, Irwin scored her 2nd of the game on a rebound that deflected in off the goalie's to make it 4-0. Wickenheiser put the puck off the post on a late solo rush. Jenni Hiirikoski was shaken up on a collision deep in the Finnish end with Gillian Apps with 4 minutes left.

Canadian Fans sang a spontaneous rendition of "O Canada" as the clock ticked down, and Caroline Ouellette rounded out the scoring with 1:03 left to make it 5-0.

With the Gold Medal Game looming, the Americans are the two time defending World Champion, but the Canada has the edge in exhibition leading up to the Vancouver Olympics.

"We know exactly what [Team USA's] motivation is going to be," said Hefford. "We've heard it many times. It's going to be Salt Lake, and it's going to be the "Miracle on Ice". Good for them, That's their experience. Our Experience as Canadian Hockey players is completely different, and we're so proud here in Canada. This crowd is giving us energy every night."

Netminder Shannon Szabados earned her first shutout of the tournament for Canada. "This team played well in front of me, and it's really exciting," said Szabados. "I didn't get many shots in the early going, which makes it tough to stay focused mentally. "You have to find ways to keep yourself occupied, because all these teams are good and they're going to get their chances eventually."

This was the third straight Olympic Semi-Final Victory for Canada over Finland. (7-3 in 2002, 6-0 in 2006).

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