GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA – The drill looked monotonous. Over and over, the U.S. women’s hockey team worked on crashing the net in search of scoring opportunities in practice on Sunday.
They focused on that same thing in practice the previous day, too. And the day before that.
“Seems like a decent plan,” Coach Robb Stauber said. “Now, we’ve got execute and get the puck across the goal line.”
Just like that, their practice paid off.
Less than three minutes into the first period of the women’s Olympic semifinal, Warroad’s Gigi Marvin parked in front of the goal, took a pass from Meghan Duggan from behind the net and buried it to give Team USA a 1-0 lead over Finland.
Funny how that works.
The barrage didn’t let up. The Americans scored twice in the first period, twice in the second and rolled over Finland 5-0 at the Gangneung Hockey Center to punch their ticket to the gold medal game.
The offensive output came as a relief to the U.S. after scoring only nine goals total in three preliminary games.
“We put our attention on scoring,” Stauber said. “When you’re out-shooting teams 2-to-1 and you’re barely winning or not scoring as much as you’d like, what else are you going to repeat?”
Speaking of repeat, the gold medal game could look awfully familiar as the United States will play Canada for the third straight time. Canada defeated the Olympic Athletes from Russia 5-0 in the other semifinal. The Canadians have won four consecutive gold medals and own a 24-game Olympic winning streak.
The Americans are trying to win gold for the first time since the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
The title game is scheduled for 10:10 p.m. (Twin Cities time) on Wednesday.
“This team is ready,” Duggan said. “This team is full passion and energy and excitement. We’ve worked really hard this tournament, the last four years and our whole entire lives to put ourselves in position to go after a gold medal.”
They had little trouble in the semifinals, improving to 8-0 against Finland all-time in the Olympics.
Dani Cameranesi scored two goals to pace the scoring, including a nifty individual effort in the first period after darting in and intercepting a pass.
Finland goalie Noora Raty, the former Gophers star who has been all-world for a long time, got little help from her teammates as the U.S. kept firing pucks at her.
The Americans held a commanding advantage in shots (38-14) and were relentless in their attack. Their formula looked exactly what they worked on the last week in practice.
“Hey, here are the facts: Canada has watched us practice four days in a row and they’ve watched what we’ve been doing,” Stauber said. “And we’ve been going to the net hard and we’ve been putting pucks to the net. It doesn’t matter. You’ve got to score.”
The U.S. doubled its lead in the second period with a pair of power-play goals after two Finland penalties gave them a 5-on-3 advantage for nearly 1½ minutes.
Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson smoked a slap shot from inside the faceoff circle for a 3-0 lead as the two-man advantage was just about to expire.
Hilary Knight scored again 34 seconds later on a redirect from in front of the net.
The game was over at that point.
“We’re clicking,” Knight said. “We’re humming.”
In analyzing video of their preliminary games, the coaching staff noticed teams collapsing their defense to prevent prime scoring chances.
“Teams respect our speed and our skill,” Stauber said. “They pack it in. They make it very hard to make cleans plays through those tight areas, which is a good game plan on their part. I would too.”
Stauber said opponents sometimes “turn their heels to the net and guard us like a football receiver” when the U.S. has speed rushes down the wing.
“That’s not going to change,” he said. “And we don’t expect refereeing to change at all. It will not change. We have to change. We have to drive even harder than we have. Period.”
That’s why Stauber devoted so much time in recent practices to scoring goals in traffic from close range. They scored a lot of them from that area in the semifinals, and now they have a shot at gold again.
“We had a very clean performance,” Stauber said.