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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Canadian women's hockey team embraces four-day break ahead of Olympic semifinal

Posted: 02/13/2014 6:53 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 02/13/2014 5:34 PM

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SOCHI, Russia - Four days off didn't seem like a long break to the Canadian women's hockey team or their coach.

Canada doesn't play again at the Sochi Olympics until Monday's semifinal. The defending champions capped the preliminary round with a 3-2 win Wednesday over archrival U.S. and went unbeaten in three games.

Canada's reward was a day off from the rink and each other Thursday to go experience the Olympic Games, watch Canadians compete in other sports, shop, eat and rest before getting back to work.

"I've told them I don't want to see them or speak to them," Canadian head coach Kevin Dineen said. "All of a sudden you get together a day later, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

"I think a day away, let them go enjoy the Olympic experience and come back full of juice on Friday."

Canada faced the same four-day gap between their final round-robin game and their semifinal four years ago in Vancouver.

After outscoring their opposition 41-2, coach Melody Davidson was worried about keeping her players sharp for the medal round and an anticipated gold-medal showdown with the U.S.

So the Canadian women actually played an extra game during that break against the Vancouver Northwest Giants boys' team two days after a 13-1 win over Sweden and two days before a 5-0 victory over Finland in the semifinal.

But because of the change in the tournament format, Canada had a more strenuous round-robin in Sochi than in Vancouver.

Canada's Group A included the U.S., Finland and Switzerland. The four are the top-ranked countries in the world in women's hockey

The Canadians outscored their competition 11-2 in the round-robin. A much-improved Finnish team held Canada scoreless until the third period and made the Canadians work hard for the 3-0 victory. The game against the Americans was its usual end-to-end track meet.

So no extra games required in Sochi, according to Canadian captain Caroline Ouellette.

"The way the divisions are made here, those were tougher games that we played so we're going to need that rest and we're going to be ready for the semifinal without secret games," Ouellette said.

The Americans will play in Monday's semifinal after going 2-1 in the round-robin. The reigning world champions were also given the day off Thursday by coach Katey Stone.

Neither Stone nor Dineen seemed worried their players would relax too much with daytime temperatures in the mid-teens, palm trees lining the streets and the Black Sea visible from their windows in the athletes' village.

"There's no concern about going into vacation mode from our end of it," Stone said.

Judging from their tweets, the Canadian women made the most of the day off. Edmonton defenceman Meaghan Mikkelson was headed to speedskating.

Forward Meghan Agosta-Marciano of Ruthven, Ont., posted a photo of her getting a leg massage after scoring a pair of goals versus the U.S. the previous night. Assistant captain Hayley Wickenheiser of Shaunavon, Sask., also posted a photo after a meal with her son and parents at a sea-side restaurant.

Finland, Switzerland, Russia and Sweden will play in Saturday's quarter-finals. The Swedes and host Russians were playing for first in Group B on Thursday in a game that determined quarter-final matchups. The final and bronze-medal games are Feb. 20.

Wickenheiser, Canada's flagbearer at the opening ceremonies, says it was important for her and her teammates to use their day off wisely.

"It's a balance of energy," Wickenheiser said. "You really have to stay in your routine and do what you would do at home. Get out and enjoy it, but then get off your legs and make sure you're mentally sharp more than anything.

"Everybody gets to go and enjoy the Olympic Games because that's part of this too, but then we have three days to really bear down for a tough semifinal game."

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