The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Posted: 02/17/2014 1:20 PM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 02/17/2014 4:12 PM
SOCHI, Russia - Canada will play for Olympic women's hockey gold again although their road through the tournament was less dominant than at previous Winter Games.
A 3-1 win over a tenacious Switzerland and their indefatigable goaltender Florence Schelling in Monday's semifinal propelled the Canadians to their fifth Olympic final.
The Canadian women have won the last three gold medals after falling to the United States in the first Olympic women's hockey final in 1998.
The Canadians and the Americans meet for the title again Thursday and will play for the first time in the Bolshoy Ice Dome where the men's games are.
"We're ready for this," six-time Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser said. "We have a lot of players who have been through this before and know exactly what has to be done.
"What do they say? Courage is just one step ahead of fear. You've got to play with courage and that's what it comes down to."
Toronto forward Natalie Spooner and Melodie Daoust of Valleyfield, Que., scored their first goals of the tournament and their first in a Winter Olympics for Canada.
Spooner scored twice and Daoust added another in the first period before Jessica Lutz replied for Switzerland in the second. Canada's Shannon Szabados stopped 21-of-22 shots for the win.
Reigning world champion U.S. downed Sweden 6-1 in the other semifinal.
Canada outscored the opposition 46-2 heading into the 2010 final against the U.S.
With other countries so far behind them, the Canadian team worried about staying game-sharp, so they scheduled an extra, secret game against a local boys team between the preliminary round and the semifinal.
But the Canadians have been challenged in Sochi. Monday's semifinal was the closest result ever in women's hockey between Canada and Switzerland. The Swiss offence was more audacious because of their confidence in their goaltender.
"I even believe this was a very important game for women's hockey in general," Schelling said. "Losing 3-1 is amazing. It's a great outcome for us although we are a little disappointed obviously.
"There's no time to be disappointed because we have Sweden coming up in a bronze-medal game."
The Canadians pumped 48 shots at Schelling compared to almost 70 in a 5-0 win over the Swiss to open the tournament.
"Florence played outstanding tonight again," Swiss coach Rene Kammerer said. "If you don't have a good goaltender in this situation you can't play offence."
Schelling is the goaltending story of the women's tournament in Sochi. The 24-year-old played college hockey at Northeastern before joining a Swiss men's team this winter.
She's faced a tournament-leading 224 shots in her five games and is carrying a save percentage of 91 per cent.
It took until the third period for Canada to score en route to a 3-0 win over Finland in their second round-robin game. The Canadians concluded the preliminary round with a 3-2 win over the U.S.
Down to five defenceman Monday because veteran defenceman Meaghan Mikkelson was scratched from the lineup, Canada occasionally looked porous and unorganized on their side of the red line.
Their power and puck skills up front took over once they crossed centre.
"It was closer than we wanted it to be," Wickenheiser said. "They gave us a good game. I think they played more of a hope game and threw it up the middle every time and hoped for chances. (Schelling) made some great saves and we hit a couple of posts.
"Today wasn't out greatest game. We still found a way to win."
Canadian head coach Kevin Dineen didn't disclose what kept Mikkelson — one of two Canadian defenceman with previous Olympic experience — out of the game, but stated emphatically the Edmonton native would play Thursday.
Canada will need her. With four defenceman playing in their first Olympic Games and the U.S. the fastest team in the tournament, all hands on deck are needed on Canada's blue-line.
"For sure, we only had five defence and it was a bit of an adjustment," captain Caroline Ouellette. "A lot of them didn't play together for a long time. Mick is day-to-day. We hope she'll be back in the final.
"I give credit to the Swiss. They battled for 60 minutes, they stretched their forwards and at times we weren't as disciplined as we needed to be to keep that high forward on the back check."
Canadian forward Haley Irwin of Thunder Bay, Ont., played in her first game of the tournament after sitting out the first three with an injury.
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