SOCHI, RUSSIA – The day after another emotionally draining game against the United States, coach Kevin Dineen gave the Canadian women’s hockey team the day off. “I told them I don’t want to see them,’’ he said. “I don’t want to speak to them, and I don’t want them around each other. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.’’
Come Friday, though, Dineen wants his players back on the ice and full of fire. Canada delivered Dineen his first victory in the mega-rivalry Wednesday, 3-2 as the teams ended preliminary play. That gave it a bye into Monday’s semifinals and the top seed as it pursues a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal.
The U.S. (2-1) finished second to Canada (3-0) in Group A and also earned an automatic berth in the semifinals. Under a new Olympic format designed to reduce mismatches in pool play, the top four teams were placed in Group A, and the bottom four in Group B.
The bottom two teams in Group A will play the top two teams from Group B in Saturday’s quarterfinals, with Finland (1-2) drawing Sweden (2-1) and Switzerland (0-2-1) facing Russia (3-0). The Americans will play the Finland-Sweden winner, while Canada will face the Switzerland-Russia winner.
The Americans took the day off, too. The loss ended their four-game win streak over Canada, but they said they must leave it behind as they face a tougher road to the gold-medal game. Finland, with former Gophers goaltender Noora Raty, beat the U.S. last fall and is playing the best of the teams ranked behind the two heavyweights.
“The biggest thing is to move on from this and get ready for the semis,’’ said U.S. goaltender Jessie Vetter. “It’s going to be a big game for us, to have that opportunity to play in another gold-medal game.’’
Under the new format, there have been fewer routs in the tournament than in past Olympics. The largest margins of victory both came against the Swiss, as they lost 9-0 to the U.S. and 5-0 to Canada. Eight of the 12 games were decided by three goals or fewer.
The U.S. leads the tournament in scoring with 14 goals in three games. Canada is the top defensive team, allowing two goals in three games. U.S. forward Hilary Knight (three goals, two assists) is the tournament’s leading scorer, while Gophers forward Amanda Kessel is tied for second (two goals, two assists) and is plus-6.