Although Canada’s facing a must-win situation tonight, coach Ryan Walter’s biggest challenge might be keeping his team’s focused on Finland rather than another gold-medal showdown with the United States.
Tonight, the 1-1 national women’s hockey team has a 7:30 (TSN) date with the Finns, who also sport a 1-1 record, in 4 Nations Cup play at Mile One Centre, and the scenario is a simple one: Canada must win in order to advance to Saturday’s final against the U.S. (7:30 p.m., TSN2).
The Americans (2-0), on top of the leaderboard and guaranteed a spot in the final, meet Sweden (0-2) at 1 o’clock this afternoon at Mile One.
“I’ll be honest,” said Canadian defenceman Bobbi-Jo Slusar, “since we got here, we’ve been looking towards that big gold. The game against Finland is like any other game in a tournament, in that you have to get better and better to get to the final.
“It’s kind of one of those things where I could say ‘No, no, we don’t think that way,’ but we definitely do. You want to be in that final, and we can’t wait for it. But we can’t look too far ahead.”
The Canadians, playing their first game together as a unit since intra-squad scrimmages at a September evaluation camp in Calgary, dropped a 3-2 decision in a shootout to the U.S. Tuesday night, but got back on track Wednesday, steamrolling Sweden 8-1 in Clarenville.
“From the first time we stepped on the ice in practice,” said Slusar, a Swift Current, Sask., product who played NCAA hockey at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “and playing an exhibition game against the boys, we’ve been coming together. I feel like we’re on the right path.”
Canada has dominated Finland in 4 Nations Cup play, but the Finns won Olympic bronze last February in Vancouver and are capable of an upset, witnessed by their 1-0 win over the States at the 2007 world championship in China.
And just two years ago, Sweden stunned Canada 2-1 in the 4 Nations at Lake Placid, where the home team won the gold medal.
While 13 players return from the roster which won Olympic gold in February, Canada’s icing a relatively green defensive corps with only Meghan Mikkelson and Tessa Bonhomme back from last season.
“But even though it’s their first time at this tournament,” said Bonhomme, “they’re experienced players in general and they know not to look past the game at hand, or the practice in front of you. They’re rookies, but they’re very mature players.
“The thing is learning to control your emotions, your excitement and not get ahead of ourselves in that sense.”
Walter said Shannon Szabados, who kicked out 23 U.S. shots Tuesday, will get the start in goal tonight.
Meanwhile, Hockey Canada is hoping Newfoundland fans will show up tonight donning red in support of the home team.