Great, lively crowd at Canada Hockey Place today for the women's hockey semifinals. The Canadians are still smarting from their loss to the Americans in men's hockey on Sunday; seems they all found some Swedish roots overnight. Their people were bellowing for the Swedes throughout the US-Sweden semifinal.

But the Americans had cheeseheads! The family of U.S. defenseman Molly Engstrom, from Siren, Wis., arrived in full cheddar regalia. They had cheese-wedge hats with American flags stuck in them. They had cheese top hats. They weren't hard to spot in their primo seats, lower level across from the U.S. bench. The in-house TV crew stopped by for an intermission interview, punctuated by a cry of "On, Wisconsin!'' from Molly's brother Chris.

The U.S. women watched the men's game against Canada from a variety of vantage points. Some were at the game, some stayed in their apartments to rest for their own game and watched on TV. Afterward, U.S. defenseman Caitlin Cahow rode in an elevator at the Olympic Village with our own Zach Parise. She said he looked like a 10-year-old boy who just put on a pair of skates for the first time. It was obvious the women were jazzed by what the guys pulled off. Seeing a Canadian team beaten at home in this atmosphere is a huge emotional boost. As Vetter said, "We know our guys did it. Now we've got to back it up.''

Cahow took stitches in a knee during the game, after blocking a shot just before Sweden scored. She played a tremendous game, as did the entire American lineup. Erika Lawler--the five-foot-tall forward--was constantly in the center of the action. The Lamoureux twins were fabulous; three goals for Monique, two assists for Jocelyne. Three goals and two assists from the defensemen.

Vetter didn't see much action, which could be a little worrisome for the Americans in the final. Sweden only managed 12 shots, and few of them were tough saves. Her calm, though, will help her against Canada. She said she actually likes a loud crowd, even if it's not in her corner. That's a gamer.

Sweden did give them a good battle through the first 30 minutes or so--just what the U.S. needed. The Finns fought Canada hard, too. The Gophers' Noora Raty made a bunch of nice saves while seeing 50 shots. By the way, think the Gophers miss her? They're 1-4-1 since she's been with Team Finland.

Lots of WCHA connections in these games. Sweden has three former Minnesota Duluth players: Maria Rooth, Erika Holst and goalie Kim Martin, who looked nowhere near as sharp today as she did when she stole a semifinal victory for the Swedes over the U.S. in the 2006 Olympics. Defenseman Emilia Andersson plays for Minnesota State Mankato. Thirteen of the Americans are from WCHA schools. The Finns have Raty, Saara Tuominen from UMD, Mankato forward Nina Tikkinen and the former Ohio State star Emma Laaksonen. It's great for the women's game to have these international players develop in the American college system and take that knowledge back home.

Wide range of opinions on who will win Thursday. Raty likes the U.S. Her coach, Pekka Hamalainen, said he'd put money on Canada. Finland forward Michelle Karvinen picks the Americans.

It should be a great game with perhaps the best atmosphere ever for a women's hockey event. I can't wait!


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